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History of Motown Soul Music
by Alex Cosper (12/15/12)


The Motown Sound came from Detroit, also known as the Motor City, where cars are manufactured. Motown Records, started by Berry Gordy, Jr. in the late 1950s, went on to become one of the most successful independent labels of all time. The hits from Motown's sister label, Tamla, is often considered part of the Motown Sound as well. Gordy had written the hit "Lonely Teardrops," which became big for Jackie Wilson in late 1958. Then in 1959 Gordy launched Tamla Records, Anna Records and Motown Records later that year. These labels were mainly imprints that were distributed by more established labels. That same year Gordy built a recording studio called "Hitsville USA."

The idea paid off within a year as "Money (That's What I Want)" became a major hit for Barrett Strong in early 1960, the year Motown Records began a long string of hits, starting with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Robinson also became an executive for the company. The group's first smash was "Shop Around." Another early success story for the label was Mary Wells, who started having big pop hits in 1962. By the time her hit "My Guy" was number one a few years later, Motown and Tamla had developed a mountain of hits. Stevie Wonder was signed to Tamla and hit the top of the charts in 1963 with "Fingertips Part 2."

The Four Tops had began having hits in 1964 with "Baby I Need Your Loving" and then "I Can't Help Myself" the following year, topping the charts. Another Motown act that made it big in that period was The Supremes, who ultimately became the hottest female act of the sixties. In 1964 they had three number one hits, which were "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love" and "Come See About Me." In 1965 they had three more chart toppers, which were "Stop! In The Name of Love," Back In My Arms Again" and "I Hear a Symphony." In 1966 they hit the top again with "You Can't Hurry Love" and "You Keep Me Hangin' On." By 1968 the name of the group shifted to Diana Ross And The Supremes with the number one hit "Love Child." Their final number one song was "Someday We'll Be Together" in 1969.

The Berry Gordy labels had many other smash hits in the sixties including "My Girl" by The Temptations on Gordy Records in 1965. The group continued to have hit after hit through the mid-seventies. Some of their other memorable classics were "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" in 1966, "I Wish It Would Rain" in 1968, "I Can't Get Next To You" in 1969, "Ball of Confusion" in 1970, "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" in 1971 and "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" in 1972.

Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye proved to be legendary acts for Tamla Records throughout the sixties and seventies. Wonder's timeless hits included "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" in 1966, "I Was Made to Love Her" in 1967, "My Cherie Amour" in 1969, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" in 1970, "Superstition" in 1972, "Living For the City" in 1974, "I Wish" in 1976 and "Sir Duke" in 1977. Gaye also had an impressive track record of monumental hits such as "Pride and Joy" in 1963, "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You" in 1965, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" in 1968, "What's Going On" in 1971, "Let's Get It On" in 1973 and "Got To Give It Up" in 1977.

Starting in 1969 The Jackson 5 developed a long string of memorable hits on Motown Reocrds for the next decade before Michael Jackson moved on to Epic Records as a solo artist. Michael did have a few solo hits with Motown in the early seventies including a cover of "Rockin' Robin" and the number one hit "Ben." Other artists who made their mark at Motown included The Marvellettes, Martha and The Vandellas and The Contours. Another Gordy label was Soul Records, which generated hits for Junior Walker & The All Stars, Jimmy Ruffin and Gladys Knight & The Pips. Yet another label started by Gordy was V.I.P Records, which ushered in The Spinners.

Many of the hits on Berry Gordy's labels were written by the songwriting team of Brian Holland, his brother Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier, all of whom were also involved as producers. The team was known as Holland-Dozier-Holland. The continued to write hits as a trio through the early seventies. In 1988 Gordy sold Motown to MCA Records, which inevitably merged into Universal Music Group in the next decade. Today much of the music recorded at Hitsville USA stands up as timeless dance classics.






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