I keep getting e-mails from fans of The Four Seasons asking “what is the latest news on the unreleased tracks in the Motown vault?. Is there any chance of any of it being released?” And they keep coming even nine months after we highlighted the demos of some of these in Chameleon’s blog at the start of 2011. So this is our latest assessment.
There are we now KNOW over 40 unreleased tracks ‘named’ as existing on 16 track tape sitting in the Motown vault in we believe an air-conditioned unit in New Jersey. What is more we now know which tapes exist and what the Motown data records show “should be on the tapes”. Knowing Crewe and Gaudio’s attitude to recording it is unlikely the recording sessions are incomplete. During the Detroit period many of the backing tracks were recorded separately and at a later date the lead vocal was added. Sometimes it wasn’t…..leaving incomplete songs…sometimes another artist used the backing track. We believe that during the Four Seasons Motown 70s sessions this may only have happened with a few of the songs: The Marvin Gaye –Diana Ross Duet ‘Stop Look and Listen to Your Heart’ for which Valli is alleged to have laid down a lead vocal. (Tape P2201 Master 60950) and the Bobby Darin recording ‘I Won’t Last A Day Without You’ which Bob Crewe produced with a Four Seasons ‘style’ backing with Bobby and which is also listed as covered by Frankie Valli (Stereo Tape 3912 )
We are currently analyzing the tape archive data to paint a better picture of the group’s spell at the label and how their tenure there failed to produce a hit record and why only 23 out of 70 to 80 recordings have surfaced.
As for the question “what are the chances of these being released?” . Well we believe that is not the right question.
The risk of loss of masters is high. This research paper highlights the current situation…” Record companies are engaged intensely in providing customers with an alternative to Napster that will generate income for the record industry and prevent piracy of music. The major subscription Web sites for music will probably concentrate on contemporary music and the history of rock and roll (Surowiecki 2000). The universe of musical riches promised by celestial jukeboxes is not likely to include a wide selection of historical sound recordings that represent the full breadth of recorded music. This is certain to be true if they are not preserved and documented properly. If audio recordings that do not have mass appeal are to be preserved, that responsibility will probably fall to libraries and archives. Within a partnership between archives and intellectual property owners, archives might assume responsibility for preserving less commercial music in return for the ability to share files of preserved historical recordings.
All audio preservation is expensive; it is estimated that preservation engineers' studio time required for a recording averages three times the length of the source recording. Digital preservation holds great promise but it adds significant investment costs, such as the creation and maintenance of repositories and the generation of controlling metadata. Whether for lack of foresight or funding, libraries are not creating digital mass-storage systems for audiovisual works, which are common in broadcasting archives. We face an extraordinary dilemma: at a time when a greater range of audio is available to more people than ever before, and the means are finally at hand to preserve those sounds for posterity, we stand the greatest risk of losing them. “
We recently contacted Universal Motown Vice President , Harry Weinger to make a case for the urgent ‘preservation’ of these tracks rather than focusing on their release. In an e-mail to Harry we set out our concerns.… “Gathering information on the Four Seasons at Motown over the last year has been very fruitful in us finding recordings of acetates of Bob Crewe's productions during late 1973. If you have followed our blog you will have heard these on You Tube.
This of course adds to the belief that there is a good deal of material complete or suitable for mixing to completion by Valli and the group and which has never been released.
We understand you have accepted Bob Gaudio’s position that this material is not to be released and that is his right and stems from his membership of The Four Seasons Partnership .(notwithstanding it is not owned by him nor is it all his work, it is Valli's and they are Partners)
In gathering information we now have combined research from 1970s sources with info from anonymous people in Motown during the 1990s and compilation of a more detailed database of the P tapes in the Universal Motown archive and of the 60000 series of master numbers has been possible. We can now see on our lists the released and unreleased tracks on their master 16 track tapes. Like many Motown artists the lists of unreleased tracks in the vault continues to be a big focus for collectors as there are potentially so many.
As a result, the picture of the Four Seasons recording career at Mowest/Motown has become much clearer and we are optimistic that there are at least 45 tracks/recordings identified from data records of what should/could be on tape which have not been released. We realise the LA tapes indexing is not good and suspect that many have not been researched since they were recorded.
Our concern re this is with regard to the fact that these tapes are not digitized or preserved in a form that enables them to be finished/mixed down from multi-track(or even if this is possible)
It is clear from your own comments in interview for previous projects, that until the tapes are properly researched and digitized it is unclear what can be salvaged. That appears to be a core problem for Universal Motown’s Tape Archive and it isn't getting any easier as economic models for the release of music make life more difficult for you the tape owners. Obviously the biggest expenditure is in locating and re-mastering tapes. This process has to be gone through, whether the end result is a CD or an on-line piece of music. Maintaining Ampex or other relevant tape machines is a cost it seems some corporations are wishing to remove and the risk of loss of this art appears real.
From our perspective, The Four Seasons are and will remain very important artists in the history of pop music and the preservation of their recording history remains a key objective of our work.
We do realise that, whilst Bob Gaudio does not want unreleased material issued at present, there is still in our opinion an important project to be considered in researching and digitizing the results of the group’s sessions at Motown. Current research has already shown the importance(and quality) of Bob Crewe's compositions with Kenny Nolan in 1973 and other songs which relate to key writers and producers.
We can all see that the commercial exploitation of the tracks in the Motown Universal tape vaults remains difficult in a music retail climate that is reducing the commercial value of past music year on year. However, from a art perspective every year sees the artistic and cultural value of these recordings becoming more and more important, and like newly discovered paintings by recognised artists this material will have high value in time.
Our project wish is to simply target the preservation of the material for future potential use rather than them being an unknown piece of work. Fans really are interested in this information and it is hard to see why Universal Motown would not wish to reach such a position. We think it is more important to confirm the status of recordings rather than to manage expectations re a release. The latter has become less important than the former given the age of the tapes and the artists/producers.
Like all great creative output, it is inevitable that these rare works will appreciate in value. There can be little argument that a modest investment in reviewing and preserving the 'Seasons' Motown collection today will give everyone more freedom to develop new 'products' from it in the future, as appropriate.”
What we were highlighting was that Universal Motown are the ‘curators’ of this ‘art’ and it deserves the same respect as other historical art like film/video or paintings. The risks of losing this work was brought home to us by an article from Billboard in July 1997 “Labels Strive to rectify Past Problems”. Writer Bill Holland won an ASCAP-Deems Taylor award for this stunning overview of the industry and highlights horror stories of ‘lost assets’ (ie the master tapes) and how ‘mindless companies and employees’ sometimes simply threw them away or over-taped them. We believe this happened with the original Four Seasons masters stored at Bell Studios.
[The Apex MM-1000 16 track console came into use from 1970 onwards]
But Universal Motown are not stupid and are fully aware of the value contained in these tapes for the wide range of artists in their archive. The success of some of the re-issue projects by them and licensing companies such as ACE has led to superb output this year alone for Tammy Terrell, Patrice Holloway and Marv Johnston helps maintain interest in the archive.
Although we haven’t yet had a reply from Harry we believe our strategy is likely to be implemented. The evidence of this is in interviews Harry gave earlier this year and in this article to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Motown.
“NEW YORK -- It's a plain little room. The size of a small garage, maybe.
For Detroit, this is a very important 150 square feet. Housed here, on the fifth floor of an office building 500 miles from West Grand Boulevard, are the most valuable raw materials in the city's cultural history.
This is Universal Music's Motown vault, and these are Motown's original session tapes: the reels that rolled in the studio at West Grand, capturing what would become some of the most beloved sounds in popular music. These tapes are the sacred texts of Detroit music, and this is their sanctuary.
The little room is concealed behind secured doors deep in Universal's glossy Broadway headquarters. It's not a romantic-looking nook. Fluorescent lights, white walls, metal shelving.
But the contents are pure gold, and worth that much, too. Lining the shelves are hundreds of thin square boxes, many with crinkled, typewritten labels itemizing the songs inside. These reels have been on a lengthy journey -- from Detroit in the '60s to Los Angeles in the '70s to New Jersey in the '90s to Pennsylvania in the '00s to this little room in Manhattan today.
This vault is a way station for the tapes as Universal staffers do their work, creating digital archives, performing restoration work and -- most importantly -- extracting songs for an ever-churning array of Motown projects. When the reels aren't here, they're in heavily guarded, climate-controlled facilities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey with Motown's full archive of 30,000 reels.
Founder Berry Gordy Jr. says Motown's 50th anniversary is "really about celebrating the unsung heroes as well as the ones everybody knows." Years ago, those unsung heroes were fearless salesmen, patient artist trainers and other offstage personnel. Today they're the core team of six people in this office, along with staffers across the country, doing the work that keeps Motown's music thriving.
"Universal is the caretaker of the legacy, and we take that role very seriously," says Harry Weinger, vice president of Universal's catalog division. "Motown is still alive. It's not some creaky museum piece. It's real."
Down the hall from Universal's New York vault is the mastering room, a mood-lit space with a pair of leather couches and a stately console at the center. Studio A, they call it, in a tribute to Hitsville back in Detroit. Two vintage tape machines, the size of card tables, sit against a wall. They're rare, expensive and meticulously maintained. The last thing anybody wants is to see a stream of Motown tape go twisting and shredding into a real piece of history.
This is where staffers take the work of Motown's greats, transferring the old tapes into computer files for mixing and mastering. Scrutinizing the tape boxes brings little thrills. Each contains a track sheet from the original recording session, meticulously listing song titles, dates, personnel and the placement of instruments. (this is we know not correct as data re some of the tapes is very limited and often incorrect as they admit) Motown often cut several sessions on one reel. Pull a box off the shelf, and you might see "The Tears of a Clown" and "Standing in the Shadows of Love" side by side.
"We're following in someone's footsteps, and they've done beautiful work," says Weinger. "So sometimes you just want to touch the tape. You get the vibe of the session, the feel for it.".
"I always knew it would become valuable," Gordy says. "We were locked into the baby boomers early, and they followed us right down to where we are now. And now their kids, their grandkids, are getting a taste of something they loved so much."
So we believe the process of digitizing and protecting this heritage has commenced. There is no need to maintain a staff base (or sound engineers) in this day and age with projects and releases being licensed out and commercially successful (and so well done) by the likes of ACE Records. Sub-contractors (for example Sterling Sound) can undertake the preservation and digitization of ‘the assets’ and a specialist small team can over-see the process.
So what else makes us believe the Four Seasons Motown catalogue will be researched and preserved soon.? Well look what is coming in October at the 131st AES Convention (Friday, October 21, 9:00 am — 10:30 am) the subject is…..”Yesterday, Today, and Forever: The Art and Science Behind the Motown and Verve Catalog Reissues
Presenters: Kevin Reeves, Andy Skurow, Harry Weinger
The panel will discuss: What is catalog, and how are reissues conceptualized? The vault system: What is the process of finding the assets? And they will talk about how the technical engineering brings all the elements together for the final package.”
Whilst generic this will possibly focus on the above issues and how the archive team plans to go forward. Let’s hope someone asks the right question!!
Next Time: The story of the sessions at Mowest and Motown and the chances of Valli, Gaudio, and Crewe agreeing to a release of the lost tracks