Like the Beatles covering Little Richard or the Rolling Stones replicating Muddy Waters, Phil Collins’s 26-track, Motown-geared Going Back DVD (and 18-track studio CD) clicks because it’s a true labor of love. As seen in the bonus rehearsal and interview footage, Collins went to great lengths to make sure the music of his youth (mostly Motown, but also Curtis Mayfield, Phil Spector, and Carole King) felt and sounded right. This included hiring musicians who would know—Funk Brothers Bob Babbitt and guitarist Eddie Willis, and ex-Rare Earth guitarist Ray Monette— and meticulously recreating classic arrangements for his 18-piece ensemble. The result is an uplifting performance that moves at its own pace, rarely veering into inferior cover or pure nostalgia territory. A big factor to that end is the change of song keys to suit Collins’s range. Babbitt, whose broad tone emanates from a newish Fender Precision (with dampened roundwound strings) plugged into a Phil Jones rig, had to create and transpose his own charts. He does a terrific job summoning the Jamerson spirit in new keys and balancing it with his own style.
While such hits as “Heatwave,” “My Girl,” “Dancing in the Streets,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and “Tears of a Clown” (which, Collins informs the crowd, Babbitt originally anchored) are present, it’s the lesser-known gems that really sparkle. These include the early Stevie Wonder ballads “Blame It on the Sun” and “Never Dreamed You’d Leave Me in Summer” (for which Bob tune’s his E string down to Eb), as well as the Ronettes’ “Do I Love You” and Wonder’s “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever,” which find Bob bouncing off his open A string with abandon. Babbitt adds more Jamerson-esque propulsion on “Nowhere to Run,” “Going to a Go-Go,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” and “Standing in the Shadows of Love” (which appears on the studio CD only). Going Back offers a glimpse of classic R&B bass played by one of the originators in the here and now.