Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Tamla Motown -I hear a symphony

Motown, a name to conjure with. Some say Atlantic was grittier or Stax was funkier but there are always those that are critical of the mainstream. Motown songs have become almost ubiquitous by repetition. Embraced in the UK at an early stage the songs released on Tamla Motown records have become part of the Karaoke and Hen night circuit as well as being played on chatty commercial radio. But this should never detract from the majesty of Motown.

I would suggest that a boxed set of Motown is like a box of treasure.

Tamla Motown records started in 1959 by Berry Gordy in Detroit, Michigan, the home of Ford cars, and Motown was the popular shortened name of ‘Motor Town’. Tamla was taken from the hit Debbie Reynolds film ‘Tammy’.

The Miracles, ‘Money (That’s What I Want) was an early hit soon followed ‘Shop Around’, written by Smokey Robinson, which was the label’s first million seller.

The hits started flowing; The Miracles’’ You’ve Really Got A Hold On’ and ‘Mickey’s Monkey’, Marvin Gaye’s ‘Pride and Joy’ and ‘Can I Get A Witness’, Stevie Wonder with ‘Finger Tips’ and ‘Uptight (Everything’s Alright)’, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas ‘(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave’, ‘Dancing In The Street’ and The Supremes with ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ and ‘Baby Love’, Mary Wells with ‘My Guy’, Four Tops ‘Baby I Need Your Lovin’ ‘ and ‘I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)’, The Temptations ‘My Girl’ and ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’. Gladys Knight and The Pips ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ and The Isley Brothers with ‘This Old Heart Of Mine (Is Weak For You).


The list goes on and on.

The ‘Motown Sound’ became a distinct genre and was based on a distinctive song writing and production style utilising songwriters like Holland Dozier Holland, Ashford & Simpson and Smokey Robinson and a collective of musicians known as The Funk Brothers these musicians played on more number-one records than The Beatles, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined, though some claim the sound was something more than this;

People would listen to it, and they'd say, 'Aha, they use more bass. Or they use more drums.' no way. When we were first successful with it, people were coming from Germany, France, Italy, Mobile, Alabama. From New York, Chicago, California. From everywhere. Just to record in Detroit. They figured it was in the air, that if they came to Detroit and recorded on the freeway, they'd get the Motown sound. Listen, the Motown sound to me is not an audible sound. It's spiritual, and it comes from the people that make it happen. What other people didn't realize is that we just had one studio there, but we recorded in Chicago, Nashville, New York, L.A.--almost every big city. And we still got the sound-Smokey Robinson

Motown also promoted itself with review style tours. During it’s golden period, 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 top 10 hits, with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Jackson 5.


Artist development was a major part of Motown's operations. The acts on the Motown label were fastidiously groomed, dressed and choreographed for live performances. Motown artists were advised that their breakthrough into the white popular music market made them ambassadors for other African American artists seeking broad market acceptance, and that they should think, act, walk and talk like royalty, so as to alter the less-than-dignified image commonly held by white Americans in that era of black musicians. Given that many of the talented young artists had been raised in housing projects and were short on social and dress skills, this Motown department was not only necessary, it created an elegant style of presentation long associated with the label.

As the years passed hit after hit came out of detroit much like the production lines in the car factories, including (deep breath)


I Heard It Through The Grapevine - Marvin Gaye

My Girl - Temptations
Reach Out I'll Be There - Four Tops
What's Goin' On? - Marvin Gaye
I Want You Back - Jackson 5
Superstition - Stevie Wonder
Please Mr. Postman - Marvelettes
My Guy - Mary Wells
Let's Get It On - Marvin Gaye
Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
The Tracks of My Tears - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
I'll Be There - Jackson 5
Papa Was a Rollin' Stone - Temptations
The Tears of a Clown - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Stop! In the Name of Love - Supremes
You've Really Got a Hold On Me - Miracles
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) - Temptations
Baby I Need Your Lovin' - Four Tops
You Are the Sunshine of My Life - Stevie Wonder
Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
You Keep Me Hangin' On - Supremes

You Can't Hurry Love - Supremes
Signed, Sealed, Delivered - Stevie Wonder
Nowhere To Run - Martha & The Vandellas

It Takes Two - Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston
War - Edwin Starr
I Second That Emotion - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Higher Ground - Stevie Wonder

Ain't Too Proud To Beg - Temptations
I Can't Get Next To You - Temptations
Cloud Nine - Temptations
Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today) - Temptations
Smiling Faces Sometimes - Undisputed Truth
...to name a few!

The success of Motown also has the distinction of having created the largest black owned business in the USA. It also gave a voice to black America and created the Black pop star. After Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, a tribute album was issued TML 11076 ‘The Great March to Freedom’ which included extracts from his speeches.

The joy of Motown is the quality and accessibility of the music. The songs are so well known that they have entered into popular culture and they seem to conjure up memories and feelings in a unique way. Hitsville USA did more than most to create a soundtrack for the times of our lives.


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having said that;