Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Jackson Five. These are the well known names of legends that I learned about at some point growing up from hearing their songs on the radio or in a movie, or just from hearing my mother talk about how much she loved Marvin Gaye. What I didn't know until a few months ago that shocked me was all the smash hits that helped make these aforementioned artists, and others, iconic were all created and birthed from the same legendary independent black-owned record label, Motown Records.
Learning about the history of Motown has inspired me to write this review. My journey into learning about Motown started when I was in Michigan for work recently. I actually have a connection with Detroit through my mother's side of the family. My grandparents are from Detroit and my mother was also born there. I decided to spend the weekend in Detroit to see some attractions and visit some black-owned businesses. One of the places on my list was the Motown Museum. The Motown Museum tells you the history of Motown by providing a great guided tour inside of Hitsville U.S.A., the home of Motown Records and where all the hits were created. I recommend the visiting there.
After the tour I became intrigued in learning more about Motown, hoping to find a good documentary to watch. Thankfully, I found a fantastic documentary about Motown on YouTube called, Hitsville, The Making of Motown. This documentary is two hours long and it's where my infatuation with Motown started to reach its peak. (My infatuation eventually turned into a genuine love for the Motown era.) I enjoyed the documentary so much I went searching for a list of Motown hit songs and created my own Motown playlist to listen to. Here's a list of 10 Motown songs that I put together:
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas - Dancing in the Street 1964
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles - The Tracks of My Tears 1965
Diana Ross and the Supremes - Where Did Our Love Go? 1964
The Temptations - Get Ready 1966
The Four Tops - Reach Out, I'll Be There 1966
Tammi Terrell / Marvin Gaye - You're All I Need 1968
The Jackson 5 - I Want You Back 1969
Marvin Gaye - Trouble Man 1972
Stevie Wonder - You Are the Sunshine of My Life 1973
Diana Ross - Do You Know Where You're Going To 1975
There are many more hits from these artists, but I basically wanted to find one song that I liked per artist between 1964 - 1974, where the Motown sound reigned supreme. Diana Ross is listed twice just because I love the song "Do You Know Where You're Going To". Nas sampled this song in the 90's with Big Things. "I'm trying to eat like them people who bought Motown off Berry Gordy, Good God" - lyrics from Big Things. If you're not familiar with any of these songs I implore you to listen to them.
Putting together this list and listening to these songs after watching the documentary really had an affect on me. Maybe it was because I was doing all this in Detroit. Just to provide some context, I was born in 1979 and I grew up listening to hip hop in the 90's. The fact that in 2023, I can enjoy R&B songs written 50 and 60 years ago is a clear indicator to me that these songs are timeless.
It's not just the music that's great though. It's also the story behind the music. It's how Berry Gordy started Motown records by getting an $800 loan from his family's savings club. It's how all the Motown artists, writers, procedures, and staff worked together in solidarity under one roof to help create all these great songs. It's truly amazing. These songs probably would not have been created without everyone working together.
I'm inspired by stories like the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma when the black community came together to live, build, create, and help one another. Motown is no different. Berry Gordy is great because he saw the vision, executed it, (with the help of all the people that were involved with Motown), and helped nurture the creation of several legendary artists and timeless music. Because of all these things, I believe Motown has to be the greatest black-owned music label that ever existed.