Though Gaye is a five-star artist, this collection is worth nowhere near that rating. Too much of it is extraneous material that's barely worth even one listen. This four-CD set is strictly for Gaye fanatics who insist anything he sang had value because he sang it.
The set is split into four categories--"The Top 20s," "The Balladeer," "The Duets" and "Rare, Live and Unreleased." The only solidly entertaining CD--a joy from beginning to end--is the Top 20s, featuring most of his finest work. Only two cuts on "Duets"--"You're All I Need to Get By" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," both with Tammi Terrell--are superb. The others, with artists like Diana Ross, Mary Wells and Kim Weston, are forgettable.
On "Balladeer," Gaye, an admirer of Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Nat King Cole, tries crooning syrupy standards like "Hello Young Lovers" and "What Kind of Fool Am I," but clearly has no feel for that kind of material. You can sense him suppressing his soul style and trying to refine it to suit this material. The sole gem on the "Rare, Live and Unreleased" CD is his stirring version of "The Star Spangled Banner," performed before the 1983 NBA All-Star Game. The other cuts should have stayed in the vault.