Motown tried hard to make inroads into the rock and roll audi­ence in the ear­ly 1970’s.  Most of the­se efforts fell by the wayside but one band man­aged to carve out a career and a few notable hits: Rare Earth.

This Detroit-based bar band was near­ly all-honky in its line­up but they brought a lot of funk to their rocked-up ver­sion of blue-eyed soul.  You one can hear in their clas­sic record­ings:  lead singer/drummer Pete Rivera (née Hoorelbeke) could belt it out with the deep-voiced grit of Motown’s more gospel-influ­enced singers while the rest of the band fil­tered the their Detroit soul influ­ences through hard rock and Santana-esque big-band jam­ming to cre­ate a down-to-earth soul/rock fusion tai­lor-made for the 1970’s are­na crowd.

Rare Earth quick­ly became a big con­cert attrac­tion and record­ed exten­sive­ly but nev­er got the career-devel­op­ment atten­tion or crit­i­cal favor that their Motown peers did.   They also tend­ed to be rushed through the album-mak­ing process and suf­fered from fre­quent shifts in line­up.  As a result, their albums tend to patchy and are sel­dom in print.  Thankfully, Rare Earth had enough chart hits to make it worth­while for Motown to anthol­o­gize their work sev­er­al times over the years. The two col­lec­tions dis­cussed here offer aspir­ing schlock-funka­teers a nice way to sam­ple the choice moments of the group’s cat­a­log.

The Very Best is a solid comp that offers all the hits and radio favorites plus a cou­ple of lesser-known but equal­ly worth album tracks. In the hits area, lis­ten­ers are treat­ed to their sig­na­ture song, a hard-dri­ving rock ver­sion of the Temptations chest­nut “Get Ready,” and the wah wah-dri­ven clas­sic rock radio peren­ni­al “I Just Want To Celebrate.”  Highlights in the album track cat­e­go­ry include “Big John Is My Name,” a cov­er of an Undisputed Truth tune with a nice blax­ploita­tion funk groove, and a slow-burn­ing blues-rock take on the Merseybeat fave “Tobacco Road.”

Their ten­den­cy to stretch out in L.P. form is cur­tailed here, with side­long epics like “Ma” and the afore­men­tioned “Get Ready” trimmed down to their svel­te, sin­gle-edit ver­sions.  However, this choice gives the com­pil­ers the chance to work in more lesser-known sin­gles, like an intense­ly funky read­ing of the for­got­ten Temptations sin­gle “Hum Along And Dance” that is rebuilt around a relent­less bassline and “Hey Big Brother,” a con­ga-accent­ed funk-rock trea­tise on “the Man’s” indif­fer­ence to the plight of the inner city.  All in all, The Very Best Of lives up to the promise of its title and offers a good sum­ma­tion of their record­ing career.

Earth Tones is pri­mar­i­ly a release for those already con­vert­ed to the Rare Earth fold.  A num­ber of the tracks from The Very Best Of reap­pear here – how­ev­er, all but one appear in sub­stan­tial­ly dif­fer­ent ver­sions.   The main focus here is let­ting the group stretch out in the FM-radio style that the old-school fans are accus­tomed to.

earth tonesThe disc is anchored by three epics that high­light their ten­sion-and-release approach to blend­ing rock with funk – mon­ster ver­sions of their hits “(I Know) I’m Losing You” (10 min­utes) and “Get Ready” (20 min­utes!) plus a 12 min­ute-plus group orig­i­nal called “I Couldn’t Believe What Happened Last Night.”  All three are more lis­ten­able than you might expect, with a pre­ci­sion to their arrange­ments that shows off the band’s chops.

Earth Tones also gets bonus points for includ­ing the 12-inch mix of the fun, Bee Gees-penned-and-assist­ed dis­co crossover tune “Warm Ride”   However, the unex­pect­ed sur­prise is “Dreamer,” a sur­pris­ing­ly good bal­lad from their oft-neg­li­gi­ble late 70’s out­put that boasts an addic­tive melody and a believ­ably world-weary vocal from Hoorelbeke.

Both discs are out-of-print and require a bit of hunt­ing but each is wor­thy of explo­ration for any­one who appre­ci­ates the any­thing-goes, gen­re-bend­ing ethos of ear­ly 1970’s rock and soul.