I LOVE the Music of Motown

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So many things conspired in 1983 that lead me to become a Motown music nut, a type of music that I still find inspiring to this very day. Well, let’s take a look back to that year to see what turned me into a Motown-maniac. But first, let’s lay groundwork for this trans-formative year.

First, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was purchased several Motown/Tamla label artists’ singles back in my elementary days. I have 45s like Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, the Supremes’ “Floy Joy” and the Miracles’ “Love Machine”, among others. I remember absolutely LOVING the song “Jimmy Mack” by Martha & the Vandellas when I was a preschooler. Then, when I was in middle school, Stevie Wonder released his double album masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life. Throughout high school, I still did not know the common “blood” that was running through all of this music. That is, until I got to college in the fall of 1981, when, after getting a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.

While reading one issue of the granddaddy of all U.S. rock music magazines, I discovered that a couple of writers for the magazine were releasing a book about rock music entitled The Book of Rock Lists. Between that book and Rolling Stone’s Rock Year Book that was released the following year, I was off and running with my research into the world of rock music. But, it was in the aforementioned book that I learned of a small independent series of labels founded by the great Berry Gordy Jr. that gave me my initial information about the label whose music was “The Sound of Young America”. Although that was a marketing phrase the family of labels during their 1960s heyday, it still works to this very day.

As I was slowly initiating myself into the musical world that originated in Detroit before moving to LA in the early 1970s, I began to hear that shared sound of the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, through the Jackson 5, Thelma Houston, the Jackson 5 and Rick James, up to the 1980s and 1990s sounds of Boyz II Men, Another Bad Creation and Rockwell.

But, it was in 1983 that everything came together to get Motown’s music into my life permanently. First, even though his solo album was released in late 1982 on Epic Records, Michael Jackson’s Thriller was all over the radio and seemingly in every dorm room at Ball State University. So, an artist nurtured by Motown was ruling the music world back in 1983. Next, in the spring time of 1983, ABC-TV ran a program called Motown-25, that celebrated all of those great, long-lasting hits from the Sixties and Seventies. We got to witness a very brief reunion of Diana Ross with the Supremes, a battle of the bands between “the Tops and the Tempts” and most significantly for the current batch of college students, the Jackson 5 were back together, performing all those great early-70s number one hits, such as “I Want You Back” and “ABC”, the return of Marvin Gaye and the usual great Stevie Wonder killed during his moment. But, it was Michael Jackson who stole the show with his now-famous rendition of “Billie Jean”, during which he unveiled the unbelievable dance move now known as “The Moonwalk”. After that show, my mother reported seeing kids throughout her school attempting to moonwalk everywhere.

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Next up in 1983 was the release of the movie The Big Chill, and specifically its soundtrack album. The movie’s soundtrack, which was released on the Motown label, included many classic songs from the Sixties, most specifically my all-time favorite Motown song “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by the Temptations. Then, all of sudden, as if deemed by the rock gods, many pop songs that were becoming big hits sounded as if they all belonged to the Motown family, although most of the artists were white kids from the U.K. Allow me to remind you of some of these 80s classic songs: The Human League’s “Mirror Man”, “Time” by Culture Club, “The Look of Love” by ABC and The Jam’s swansong LP The Gift, as well as former-Jam leader Paul Weller’s new group, The Style Council and their debut EP Introducing the Style Council. Now, I was listening to so many new artists who were creating their own versions of “The Motown Sound”.

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Finally, during one of my record shop excursions at the end of the summer of 1983, I found, and purchased, a Motown double-album compilation entitled 25 #1 Hits from 25 Years. I was now the owner of a great set of Motown songs that had four sides of great Motown music, from “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes up to Rick James’ “Give It to Me Baby” and the ubiquitous 1981 hit ballad “Endless Love” duet between Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. In retrospect, the collection is just “good”, but at that moment in time, it was perfect. I began to integrate Motown songs within my DJ playlists, much to the joy of my audiences. It seemed as though all of the current hit songs with that Motown swing made my generation of people hungry for the real thing.

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Then, in the mid-1990s, I got an offer from Columbia House Music Club (remember that?!?! “12 CDs for a penny”? Yep, I kept joining and quitting and rejoining. Anyway, I ordered both volumes of Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collections in a “2 for 1” deal. In other words, I got two four-CD box sets of Motown music for the price of $19.99, plus $4.00 for shipping. That’s right, I now have two fantastic Motown CD collections that I must play at least once a month. I have songs from 1959 through 1994. Of course, I enjoy the first volume, though the second one has some great music as well.

Now, I have a family that loves the music of Motown. No, I will not comment as to how some of this music changed my life, but there’s no better memory than watching my beautiful wife sing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (the Marvin Gaye/Tammy Terrell version) with our younger son around the time of his tenth birthday. The best thing I can say about the music of the Motor City is that it always puts me in a good mood.

So, here’s to you, all of you great artists, songwriters, musicians, arrangers, engineers, producers, office workers and teachers of the company that created this collection of music! Motown has enriched my life, and subsequently my family’s lives that I want to thank you Mr. Berry Gordy Jr. for your vision and your ear that lead to all of these songs. My advice to you is to find a good collection, since there are so many different ones available, by referring to http://www.allmusic.com for a trustworthy recommendation. Don’t be afraid!

Author: ifmyalbumscouldtalk

I am just a long-time music fan who used to be a high school science teacher and a varsity coach of several high school athletic teams. Before that, I worked as a medical technologist at three hospitals in their labs, mainly as a microbiologist. I am retired/disabled (Failed Back Surgery Syndrome), and this is my attempt to remain a human. Additionally, I am a serious vinyl aficionado, with a CD addiction and a love of reading about rock history. Finally, I am a fan of Prince, Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, R.E.M., Hall & Oates, Springsteen, Paul Weller & his bands and Power Pop music.

4 thoughts on “I LOVE the Music of Motown”

  1. You were not alone in your discovery of the magic music of Motown. My parents, the Young America the Sound was aimed at, were huge fans and both of them brought their sizeable, respective Motown 45s collections together when they finally moved in together in early 1966 so I was hearing the stuff before I was even born! It was easy to tell whose records were whose: Dad bought male vocalists and groups while Mom bought female vocalists and groups. Tragically, Dad dumped his entire collection of vintage 45s (and 8-track tapes!) in the garbage without even asking me if I wanted them many years later.

    In my Easter basket for 1972, I got my first Michael Jackson (and Motown) album, Got To Be There. While “Jimmy Mack” may have been your earworm as a youngster, Michael’s take on “Rockin’ Robin” was mine. The album provided endless hours of listening on my childhood record player and even though I still own the album, that player did it so much harm that it is unplayable now – the needle just skates across the surface. I also spent hours looking at the inner sleeve of the record which provided all sorts of swag for the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson fan clubs: buttons, stickers, photos, etc. I imagined that this was how all albums were gonna be packaged and was sorely disappointed when I bought my first legit album with my own dough in 1976 and found no ads for Rhythm Heritage swag.

    I bought Motown/Tamla 45s from Michael and the Jackson 5 as well as Stevie Wonder during my elementary and junior high years while also discovering my father’s collection of Motown Chartbusters albums. Some of my earliest mixtapes were covertly taped from those albums.

    While still in grade school, I convinced my folks that I would benefit from membership in the RCA Music Service and their 6 LPs for a nickel offer. (Dad had been a member of both RCA and Columbia House since shortly after returning from Vietnam in 1973.) Some of my earliest albums ordered from RCA were Motown Anthology albums from my favorite artists, massive triple disc, gatefold albums from Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Four Tops and The Temptations.

    Dad, like every other Baby Boomer, jumped on The Big Chill soundtrack in 1983. He even bought Thriller before I did. By this time, I had probably a dozen of those Anthology albums and most of Stevie Wonder’s albums from the Seventies. I ordered that same 25 #1s From 25 Years album from one of the music clubs and think it was on sale or part of a discounted deal. The Motown 25 special aired around this same time and soon kids were doing it at school though I never mastered it. (It was only in the past five years or so I discovered that the UK knew of the move before we in American did – former Soul Train dancer Jeffrey Daniel of Shalamar debuted what he called “The Backward Slide” on Top Of The Pops in June 1982. I’ve since learned that Daniel and others had performed the move on Soul Train, coincidentally to Jackson’s “Working Day And Night” in 1979. None of this detracts from Michael’s stunning performance as we watched on May 16, 1983.)

    Among the first compact discs I ever acquired were the two Motown Dance Party discs from 1987. They were the only CDs I ever bought at Sears. I got both Hitsville boxes from RCA for $10 each in 1994 or 1995 (along with more than a dozen other crazy discounted box sets) and went through a period of buying many of the 2 All-Time Great Classic Albums Now Digitally Mastered on 1 Compact Disc series that Motown had put out in 1986 and 1987 at relatively steep discounts.

    Skipping ahead to Christmas 2005, my wife surprised me with the first three volumes of The Complete Motown Singles collections – covering 1959-1963 – which are among the finest packaged box sets of all time. I say surprised because I mentioned them just once to her after getting an email from Hip-O, saying something like they would be sure nice to have and she remembered. Through the years, she and other members of my family including my children and a nephew have bought me subsequent sets but since 2013, I was stuck on 12A, the first set from 1972 and the penultimate set in the fourteen album collection. This past Christmas, that same nephew serving somewhere in an undisclosed hot zone as a member of the United States Air Force, sent me the final volume in the series via Amazon. Apparently, he had been coordinating it with my wife since last Christmas, making sure no one got it for my Birthday or anyone else was getting it for me for Christmas. When I last updated my compact disc library app earlier this month, I searched for “Motown compilations” and was greeted with 59 results. Whew!

    Sorry, I hijacked your post. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my Motown music memories.

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    1. HERC- I would LOVE to have that Complete Motown Singles set, although I do have an electronic copy. I still love to have physical copies rather than the mp3s. Brother, you are a lucky man! I too have many of those ‘Anthology’ albums.

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  2. Can’t get enough of Motown. The “Motown musical” is on in the West End at the moment and the cast do the songs justice.

    “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (the Marvin Gaye/Tammy Terrell version) is my favourite Motown song and one of my alltime favourite songs as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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