The record company that defined black music in the 1960s and 1970s is celebrating its golden jubilee. Tim de Lisle picks eight classics for your iPod ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Winter 2008
Motown in its heyday wasn't just a record label: it was a genre. Halfway from soul to pop, it had the virtues of both--brevity, brio, charm and feeling. It was founded with $800 by Berry Gordy in Detroit in January 1959. Fifty years on, the American car industry, from which it took its name, is grinding to a halt. Motown is still going, but it has long since been owned by Universal, and though it still has stars of the calibre of Stevie Wonder, it appears to have nobody to tell him when he is off form. Its influence remains--just ask Amy Winehouse--and so do its greatest hits, many of which have their own Wikipedia pages.
WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO THE SUPREMES
Two and a half minutes of perfection. Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland and beautifully sung by Diana Ross, going easy on the syrup.
REACH OUT, I'LL BE THERE FOUR TOPS
Instant yet durable, with a storming vocal from Levi Stubbs, Motown’s drama king. As he said: “I don't really even have a style…When I learn a song, I try to live it as best I can.”
JUST MY IMAGINATION (RUNNING AWAY WITH ME) THE TEMPTATIONS
A great ode to male shyness, immaculately sung by Eddie Kendricks. Covered by the Rolling Stones, not so shyly.
HELP ME MAKE IT THROUGH THE NIGHT
GLADYS KNIGHT & THE PIPS
Kris Kristofferson’s theme tune is hard to do badly, but this version is special. It turns country to soul, white to black, and listeners to putty.
WHAT'S GOING ON MARVIN GAYE
Motown acquired a social conscience on this lethally conversational jazz-soul ballad. Berry Gordy branded it "uncommercial" and only released it when Gaye threatened to leave. It duly reached No 2 in the American pop chart.
SIR DUKE STEVIE WONDER
As Barack Obama has said, Wonder made five great LPs in a row in the 1970s. The fifth, "Songs in the Key of Life", included this: a great blast of warmth that fuses soul, pop and big-band jazz.
NIGHTSHIFT THE COMMODORES
A lyric partly about Motown itself ("Marvin, he was a friend of mine..."), written soon after Gaye's death and set to the sort of cascading groove that is surely playing in heaven.
Picture Credit: haycarieanne, evanosherow (both via flickr)