By Hannah Lee, The Verb Hotel
“I’ll Be There.” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” What do all these popular songs have in common? These are all songs from artists who were signed to Motown Records. Motown Records is an American record label, founded in 1959 by Berry Gordy Jr. in Detroit, Michigan. Its name is a combination of “motor” and “town.” The Motown Sound is a style of soul music with pop influences. The ‘60s was a hot time for Motown. The Verb is bringing Motown back with Motown Week on February 17th through the 22nd, and here are our featured artists.
Day One: The Jackson 5
Everyone knows The Jackson 5 as the birth of the career of the ‘King of Pop.’ Brothers, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael really set a new standard at the time to redefine contemporary music. At the beginning of the brothers’ career, they played talent shows and amateur competitions as they recorded for a local label called Steeltown. One night in 1967 changed their lives. They played at Chicago’s Regal Theatre where Gladys Knight was quite impressed. From then on, they go on to meet Smokey Robinson and the leader of another Motown act, Bobby Taylor. An audition was arranged, and initially, Berry Gordy was not amused by such young artists. However, a video of The Jackson 5 singing Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Lovin You” changes Gordy’s mind. In 1969, The Jackson 5 was signed to Motown Records and released one of their most popular tracks in history, “I Want You Back.”
Day Two: Michael Jackson
In 1971, after the Jackson 5’s great success, it became obvious that Michael was to start his solo career. At the age of twelve, he recorded his first solo release, “Got To Be There.” That song hits Top 5 on Billboard Hot 100. Michael’s debut album was in the making, which included different renditions such as Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend.” During this time, he was still touring with his brothers. In fact, in the group’s single “Dancing Machine,” Michael unveils his signature dances, specifically the robot. After his brothers exit Motown Records and sign with Epic Records, Michael records the album, Forever. In 1983, Michael performs on Motown 25, a network TV special. There, he performs his new song “Thriller.” You know how it goes from there.
Day Three: Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder was and still is one of the most celebrated, influential, and inspiring musicians of the past century. He is an artist that set new benchmarks of popularity: the youngest to have a No. 1 album; the first American to have an album debut at No. 1; and the only one to receive the Grammy for Album of the Year for three consecutive releases. He’s even been garlanded at the White House. Stevie was actually introduced to Motown Records through Ron White of the Miracles. At the age of eleven years old, he was signed in 1961 and was known as Little Stevie Wonder. Then, in 1962, he recorded his first single, “I Call It Pretty Music But The Old People Call It The Blues.” It isn’t until the ‘70s when Stevie started to write and produce more of his own work, which resulted in “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” At the age of 21, Stevie signed a new Motown contract, and the rest is history.
Day Four: The Temptations
They are known as ‘The Emperors of Soul.’ They’re known for their distinctive voices and sharp choreography and defining a great legacy of Motown Records. The Temptations was created in the late 1950s with a combination of a trio, the Primes, and a quintet, the Distants. This combination resulted in the five members who were signed to Motown Records in 1961. Their first single was written and produced by Berry Gordy himself. “Dream Come True” was also the first release on the label, which touches the R&B charts. It isn’t until 1964 when they work with the esteemed Smokey Robinson to write “My Girl.” This song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to this present day is their most known song.
Day Five: The Commodores
Many people know this as the group that brought up Lionel Richie, a legendary singer/songwriter. The Commodores consisted of college graduates from Tuskegee, Alabama. They are the only Motown act to place three consecutive albums into the Top 3 of the Billboard pop charts. In ‘68, they meet their soon-to-be manager, Benny Ashburn, who was a liquor marketing man. Benny booked them for gigs across the U.S. and Canada. On their journey with Benny, they became the opening act for the Jackson 5 on tour. Thereafter, they signed to MoWest, Motown’s new California label, in 1971. They really established ‘70s funk with their song “Brick House,” which is one of their greatly known songs.
Day Six: Marvin Gaye
Marvin is known as the ‘Prince of Motown.’ Loving the sound and groove of doo-wop singing, he formed a group called the Marquees. In this group, he really makes different harmonies of the genre known. Marvin found himself with Motown in 1960 through his relationship with Gordy’s sister. Marvin’s sound started in the style of Sinatra, the crooner. Gordy produced Marvin’s debut album called The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, which didn’t have much success. Marvin, reluctantly, adapted to the commercial demands with his first hit “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.” Marvin continues to top the R&B and Pop charts in the 1960s. At Motown, as his popularity continues to build, Marvin proves that he has the perfect voice for the re-rendering of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” This song was released in 1968 and becomes Motown’s single greatest hit of the decade. It stayed at the top for seven weeks.
Who is your favorite Motown Classic artist? We hope you’re as excited as we are. Get excited. Get groovy. It’s Motown week!