Celebrating 60 Years of Motown: An American Institution
by Erik R. Slagle
Berry Gordy, Jr. is a legend in the music industry, responsible for almost single-handedly creating one of the most seminal institutions in all of music. (And we’re not talking about LMFAO, although – look it up – the Gordy genes were strong in those guys!) We’re talking about Motown Records, which Gordy launched 60 years ago on the strength of an $800 loan. Gordy himself will turn 90 later this year, which will be a celebration as much for music and all of Detroit as it will be for the man himself. Gordy’s Motown label would go on to become the highest-earning African American business in the U.S.
Motown introduced iconic acts like the Miracles (featuring Smoky Robinson, godfather to – more trivia – both members of LMFAO), the Temptations, Mary Wells, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rare Earth, Stevie Wonder, and dozens more. Amazing harmonies, basslines that made it impossible to sit still, and an omnipresent background tambourine became trademarks of the Motown sound.
Mark your own celebration of Motown’s 60 years and add these classic albums to your own Playlist this summer!
Greetings! We’re the Monitors – The Monitors and Here Comes the Judge – Shorty Long (1968): This list starts with a pair of acts that found terrific success in Motown, although they wouldn’t be the household names you immediately associate with the label. Monitors lead singer Richard Street would eventually go on to join the Temptations, after years of opening for other Motown acts. Their 1968 “Greetings!” album was a label-compiled collection of hits, highlighted by the ultra-smooth “Say You.”
Shorty Long was performing on a smaller Philly-based label when Gordy purchased it and merged it with Motown, adding a remarkably unique act to the Motown family in the process. Long penned the original “Devil With the Blue Dress” in 1964 – what we now know as the Mitch Ryder phenomenon was original a slow, blues-y dirge infused with great guitar licks. “Judge” features the comedy hit title track along with “Here Comes Fat Albert.” All the tracks on this 1968 compilation have an undeniable energy and sense of fun that make it a joy to add to your collection.
Where Did Our Love Go – The Supremes (1964): Of course, when you think Motown, you have to think of the Supremes. The story goes that Gordy “discovered” the Supremes because as teens they frequented the Motown recording studio looking for any opportunity, they could find to sing backup. By the time 1964 rolled around, they were bona fide stars and their second album, “Where Did Our Love Go”, cemented that status. The title track became the group’s first Number One hit, and “Baby Love” was another smash featured on this album.
Cloud Nine – The Temptations (1969): Beyond the radio-friendly hits, The Temptations also had a successful venture into the psychedelic soul genre. “Cloud Nine” shows the influence of Sly & The Family Stone, from a year that marked a well-documented cultural shift around the country. Many of the tracks break out of the 3.5-minute box, making this album one of Motown’s first to experiment with longer story-based tracks.
This, of course, is just a short sampler – Motown’s catalog spans decades and holds more hit albums than could fit into a year’s worth of Playlists. Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” “Mary Wells’ Greatest Hits,” “Shotgun” from Junior Walker and the All-Stars, just about anything from Smokey Robinson and the Miracles … the list goes on and on. Celebrate Motown’s 60 years in 2019 and expand your own playlist with these all-time greats!