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.
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”.
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.
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!