MONDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2015
WEEK 7: MOTOWN
In 1959, when Berry Gordy set up Tamla Records at 2648 West Grand and erected his Hitsville USA sign, the neighbours must have been curious if not a little alarmed, even when Gordy’s optimism proved to be well founded. Tamla may not have become a household name in America, but his second label Motown did, the first and only label to create its own genre.
In the early days, he was willing to try anything to satisfy his thirst for success, releasing loads of gospel and blues records, off the wall experiments and trend hopping novelties on a variety of labels with names like Miracle, Gordy, Workshop Jazz and Melody. As an old time slugger willing to do whatever it took, the man had no shame. Yet even those early try outs served their purpose in the grand scheme of things because without them, it’s highly unlikely he would have been able to find the personnel and structure so essential to Motown’s infamous hit factory production line.
Capable of pushing out top quality singles incredibly quickly, the label became the first to consistently put black music in white living rooms. The records weren’t revolutionary in the conventional sense, failing to spark any kind of social change, but they did define a new, high pop intensity, the like of which had never been heard before. But exactly how much Berry Gordy had to do with the actual sound of Motown is as debatable as some of his methods.
He may have been the ruthless factory owner, but the stardust sprinkled over Motown recordings lay more within the huge cast of waifs and strays he collected from the Detroit projects; the songwriters, producers and musicians taking care of business in a converted garage studio. Black sessioneer’s James Jamerson, Benny Benjamin and the rest of the fabulous Funk Brothers were treated and paid like the lowly workers Uncle Tom Gordy clearly thought they were as he continued to fill Motown’s positions of influence and power with white executives.
During those lengthy, incredibly intense, recording sessions, despite getting all the credit, it clearly wasn’t just the superstar vocalists like Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Four Tops or The Temptations who were mining such a rich vein of creative gold. Naturally, they are all here, just as they should be, but I’ve tried to steer clear of the non-stop hits found on any number of Motown compilations. In fact, some of them have been gathering dust almost since they first appeared, largely because Berry Gordy refused to accept failure of any kind, so simply wiped them from memory. Sounding like top ten hits, most were lucky to breach the top 40.
Nothing lasts forever so the only problem Motown faced was the passage of time. Once past its imperial mid-sixties peak, while James Brown and Sly Stone were pulling black music apart, Berry Gordy continued to cling doggedly to the glamour, glitz and showbiz traditions he valued so highly. In 1971 the company checked out of Detroit for good, the magic well and truly gone leaving Motown as just another music corporation, albeit still a very big and successful one.
01 MARY WELLS ‘You Beat Me To The Punch’ (A Side July 1962 Motown)
02 EDDIE HOLLAND ‘Leaving Here’ (A Side December 1963 Motown)
03 SHORTY LONG ‘Devil With A Blue Dress On’ (A Side March 1964 Soul)
04 THE SUPREMES ‘Come See About Me’ (A Side October 1964 Motown)
05 MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS ‘Motoring’ (B Side February 1965 Gordy)
06 THE VELVELETTES ‘Lonely Lonely Girl Am I’ (A Side May 1965 VIP)
07 THE MARVELETTES ‘I’ll Keep Holding On’ (A Side May 1965 Tamla)
08 THE SPINNERS ‘I’ll Always Love You’ (A Side June 1965 Motown)
09 BRENDA HOLLOWAY ‘When I’m Gone’ (A Side July 1965 Motown)
10 FRANK WILSON ‘Do I Love You’ (A Side November 1965 Soul)
11 MARVIN GAYE ‘One More Heartache’ (A Side February 1966 Tamla)
12 KIM WESTON ‘Helpless’ (A Side March 1966 Gordy)
13 THE MONITORS ‘Number One In Your Heart’ (B Side March 1966 VIP)
14 THE MIRACLES ‘(Come Round Here) I’m The One You Need’ (A Side October 1966 Tamla)
15 THE ELGINS ‘Heaven Must Have Sent You’ (A Side October 1966 VIP)
16 CHRIS CLARK ‘I Want To Go Back There Again’ (A Side February 1967 VIP)
17 R. DEAN TAYLOR ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’ (A Side April 1967 VIP)
18 THE TEMPTATIONS ‘One Last Look’ (With A Lot O’ Soul LP July 1967 Gordy)
19 MARVIN GAYE & TAMMI TERRELL ‘If I Could Build My Whole World Around You’ (United LP August 1967 Tamla)
20 GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ (A Side September 1967 Soul)
21 ISLEY BROTHERS ‘Take Me In Your Arms’ (Soul On The Rocks LP February 1968 Tamla)
22 FOUR TOPS ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ (A Side April 1968 Motown)
23 JIMMY RUFFIN ‘Farewell Is A Lonely Sound’ (Ruff’N’Ready LP March 1969 Soul)
24 DAVID RUFFIN ‘I’ve Lost Everything I’ve Ever Loved’ (My Whole World Ended LP May 1969 Motown)
25 THE ORIGINALS ‘The Bells’ (A Side January 1970 Soul)
26 EDWIN STARR ‘Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On’ (Involved LP July 1971 Gordy)
27 THE SUPREMES FEAT. JEAN TERRELL ‘Floy Joy’ (A Side January 1972 Motown)
28 FRANKIE VALLI & THE FOUR SEASONS ‘The Night’ (Chameleon LP May 1972 Mowest)
29 JACKSON 5 ‘Doctor My Eyes’ (Lookin’ Through The Windows LP June 1972 Motown)