With Atlantic records rise to fame in the fifties off the back of the demise of swing music and the rise of rock & roll, a new coming shining star began to develop as the decade ended and the sixties were birthed. Motown Records was founded by Berry Gordy and its rise to fame in the 1960’s was nothing short of spectacular.
The birth of an era
As the big record conglomerates began to gobble up all the independent labels, they somewhat lost focus on what worked for them, the strategy that made them the established powerhouses of the music industry. One independent, Motown records; founded by Berry Gordy with a loan he received from his father, began to grow and establish itself in the industry, with its new, fresh sound that was named Motown after the record company.
While the conglomerates grew to gargantuan size, employing hundreds and perhaps alienating the choice of artists, Motown remained true to its roots and stayed an in-house operation. It is said that Gordy still takes the time to review and pass judgement on every single piece of music that is released by Motown records.
This personalised touch is what made the label something special. The singing, songwriting, and production that came out on every Motown release spoke to a certain theme of the Motown sound and one could tell a Motown record, simply by looking at the album cover. When a Motown record drops onto the airwaves, it gives the listener the feel of the Motown label as a whole, no matter which artist you are listening too.
Berry Gordy, founder of Motown Records
Motown entered the sixties as a label trying to find its feet and style of sound in the industry, like a new high-school student trying to find a new group of friends. Motown began to grow as everyone recognised the label as a producer of quality music, Motown began to stand out amongst the crowd of independent labels and attracted many artists that built the careers with the Motown label and brand.
Artists like the Marvelettes, the Contours, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, and producers like Smokey Robinson, Mickey Stevenson, and even Berry Gordy himself, all found the success with the Motown label and produced timeless works of music that will be remembered by all generations in the decades and millennia to come.
With this sudden influx of talent and the steady growing reputation of the sound, Motown began to take centre stage on the music scene and by the mid-sixties, Motown was seen as the premier label and pioneering music style of the cultural revolution to come. With the arrival of The Supremes, who signed with Motown, the Motown sound exploded in popularity and began to become the blossoming success that Gordy had dreamed of.
What is the Motown sound?
You may find yourself puzzled as to what the actual sound of Motown is defined as. Back in its prime in the mid to late sixties, Motown was defined by the following characteristics;
- A group of talented musicians who were amongst the most talented in the music industry.
- Lead singers that had a gospel edge in their pop singing.
- Use of background singers, similar to a gospel theme.
- The traditional four-beat drum pattern
- Simply structured songs with great chord changes and melodies.
- A treble style of mixing that was suitable for the radio.
While all the most popular releases in the mid to late sixties seemed to follow this format, they were very different in their own individual sound. Motown artists were some of the most creative and exciting musicians to ever live and their diversity in the gene is spellbinding. While the similarities are obvious, the individual differences between the artists were tremendous, with personal creativity a highly-valued asset that was put to good use in creating some of the finest music that defined the era itself.
Motown simply exploded toward the late sixties and the songwriting and music that came from each release inspired and pushed the other artists on the label to outdo each other, in turn producing a string of hits that made the Motown label and its artists skyrocket to stardom. With its new style gaining traction with the world, Motown truly defined an entire sound around its label, creating new conventions that would last a lifetime and become the building blocks of soul and pop music to come.
The artists and producers that defined a genre
Motown was the birth of a unique sound. The artists that came up were mostly from the realm of gospel, jazz, soul and some rock & roll, they brought with them a creative spirit and curiosity that led them to think outside of traditional boundaries that defined their contemporaries and instead moved onto other musical endeavours where they could unlock their own genius into some of the biggest hits of the century.
The producing talent that came out of the Motown label shuttled the artists to super-stardom, Holland and Dozier were the producers that had a hit-making consistency that brought numerous hit singles over their careers at the label. After dozens of hit singles, Holland and dozier decided to become independent and leave the label to grow their own careers as they see fit.
Gordy embraced the idea to a certain extent but warned that the two would never be able to re-capture what they were leaving behind at Motown. As if by providence or coincidence, when they left the company, their absence was felt, not only by the artists but by the fans that listened to the albums.
Holland and Dozier also never seemed to find the magic they had at the label and fell off into obscurity instead of establishing the successful independence they sought, perhaps showing the power that the label had over the artists and the producers and the place in time where they all seemed to come together to produce simply amazing music. At any rate, the collective purpose of the artist and their producer was to make records, the history of Motown has become, just as the Motown logo on the label reads; “in the grooves.”
Top 5 Timeless Motown Tracks
The peak of the Motown era produced some timeless classics that will be remembered forever. We put together a list of the top tracks (in no particular order, call us bias but they are all so good, we just can’t choose a clear winner). These tracks all have such historical importance and collectively they embrace the finest of what the Motown legacy created. Pick up these records, on vinyl if you can, and set yourself up for some listening pleasure.
- “I’m Losin’ You” by the Temptations.
- “Uptight” by Stevie Wonder.
- “You’re All I Need to Get By” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
- “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5.
- “Stop! In the Name of Love” by the Supremes.
The 4 Topps
Motown into the future
These tracks give us an indication of the continued growth of the company in the decades ahead, signing quality artists like Lionel Ritchie until the Motown Label was eventually bought out by Universal in 1998. The label continued as a subsidiary of Universal, signing many more artists that had come from the roots of Motown, such as Brian McKnight, and Erykah Badu until it once again separated itself and gained independence as the original Motown brand once again under the family umbrella of The Island Def Jam Music Group.
In 2014, it was announced that Motown would continue to operate independently but as a subsidiary of Capitol records, after the CEO of The Island Def Jam Music Group, Barry Weiss resigned.
What Motown means to you
Motown music is not just about the label, the label is only a former shadow of its proud self, but the legacy of Motown and Berry lives on in the artists and producers that take to the stage and the recording booth to both celebrate and create in the genre that defined and era.
Motown has always been a sound that embraces love, romance, positivity, fun and emotion. That same spirit lives on in today’s reproductions of the classics by talented artists and producers that embrace the sound the same way the original artists did back in the day.
They bring this to life in our own lives. Motown classics can be heard on every radio station and every digital music service, all over the world, you can hear their tracks at a coffee shop or a bar, or even on people’s car stereos as they commute. They are truly timeless classics that inspire all generations and are recognised by millions around the globe.
What kind of occasion suits Motown?
Motown music is perfect to get the party started and great for a big-time stage performance. If you are hosting a corporate party event, or a community event that needs some cultural swing to it, then get a Motown band to heat the room up and get the crowd swinging.
Weddings and engagement parties are made that much more memorable by an amazing band. Your guests at the reception will all love the smooth Motown tunes and party the night away as they all sing the classics.
You could hire a DJ for the evening or event and give them a track listing to play of the Motown classics, or you can hire a band that knows and plays the classics as if they were their own. Many bands feel the pride, passion and purpose of Motown and make it their mission to produce the classics as well as the original artist,
Whichever you choose to go with, Motown is a sound that suits just about any entertainment environment and it transcends so many different levels of culture that everyone can get along with it and enjoy it. You will most likely have heard all the classics before and will dance and sing along with your friends or colleagues.
The rebirth of Motown – Motown Gold
If you are looking for a Motown band for hire that can reproduce the Motown classics so well they will transport you and your guests back to the 1960’s, then look no further than Motown Gold.
Motown gold blows away their guests at every performance, they value their reputation as professional performance artists and aim to give a mind-blowing Motown experience every time they take to the stage to wow their audience.
Motown Gold capture the best tracks from the Tamala Motown and Classic Soul era of Motown, a time when the sound was at its peak and society was embracing a new turn in culture. Their bespoke playlist included time-tested classics such as Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder and The Jackson 5.
Motown gold know how to keep a crowd going and they are as comfortable in front of hundreds as they are in front of a few, they have years of performance experience in delivering a refined reproduction of the pinnacle of the Motown era.
If you have a wedding reception, corporate event, or any party that is in need of top quality entertainment that will give you a night to remember forever, then book Motown Gold with Earcandy and let them take you and your guests into a musical experience that you will never forget!