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The magic of Motown 08 09 2014
When you write three hit singles in just one day, you know you're doing something right. That incredible feat, by the song-writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, showed that for Motown, the men behind the songs were as vital as those who would sing them. Where did our love go, Baby Love and Come See About Me (All recorded by the fabulous Supremes) were all penned in a fast-and-furious outpouring of creativity, but Motown was often like that. At the peak of it's powers, the record label in Detroit just churned out hit after hit, year in, year out. Behind the scenes, some must have joked that they could record themselves yawning and it would become a best seller. However, there was far more to this astonishing company than luck or good timing -- Motown had some of the greatest pop stars, and writers who ever lived. Here is our Top ten Motown stars.
1 The Supremes
With or without Diana Ross on lead vocals, the girls just had that magic something. They remain America's most successful female act of all time, with a dozen no 1s, and in the mid 60's, The Supremes were the only act on earth to rival the Beatles for chart smashes. Lest you think they were just a backing group for Diana, Mary Wilson has often been judged the better singer, and the more beautiful!. Mary was intrigued to hear in 1999 that the band were reuniting, as she'd heard nothing about it --- offered two million dollars, she put her foot down and demanded twice that. They agreed, then reneged and Toured without her. So few people came to the shows that the tour was cancelled. We rest our case, The Supremes were much more than Diana.
2 Stevie Wonder
The blind kid with the soulful harmonica was with Motown all the way, and some say he could be called Mr. Motown, as his record sales helped carry the company through the bad times. From his earliest days as a child star, brimming with energy and writing songs like there was no tomorrow, to his older style, when he was one of the first black artists to use synthesisers, Stevie was always a leader. From Superstition to Isn't She Lovely --- a blind man's song about his baby daughter -- You Are the Sunshine of my Life to his no. hit Fingertips, aged 12, Wonder is a genius. Even Paul McCartney said Stevie's the master and it was a privilege to work with him -- needless to say, their Ebony And Ivory was yet another massive hit.
3 Marvin Gaye
Has their ever been a more tortured soul than this guy?. A sublime singer who grew used to looking out at hi audience and seeing men, women and children in tears, Gaye could make the dullest song seem full of emotion. He once recorded a bitter album, Here Here My Dear, just to pay off his ex wife, but the rest of his recorded work remains among the best of all time. All the more incredible, then, that he fitted in so much before being shot dead by his own father, at just 44 in 1984. He'd never hidden from controversy. He did an album against police brutality, What's Going On, with follow up, Let's get it On, voted the most sensual Album ever. It had begun for him with hits like I Heard It Through The Grape Vine, and famous duets with the likes of Diana Ross -- You Are Everything -- and Kim Weston -- It Takes Two. If the mention of those names hasn't got you singing those melodies already, you just don't get it.
4 The Temptations
I had the pleasure of seeing a more recent version of this band, with some of the former members long gone and the remaining ones old enough to be my grandfather. And I've never seen a show with such energy and joy. Formed in 1960, they were the result of a doo-wop quartet that broke up and some solo singers getting together to see what kind of noise they could make. It was a very pleasant one, indeed. Over five decades, they've officially become the most successful black act of all time, and much of that is down to Otis Williams who led them all the way. He spent much of his time at Motown listening to all the new songs, and deciding which act would be best-suited to each one. Otis swears he didn't just keep all the best ones for himself, but the Temptations had many hits, like My Girl, Papa' Was A Rolling Stone and Ball of Confusion. If I have half the energy by the time I reach his age, I'll be a happy man.
5 The Four Tops
I can't help myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) and Reach Out I'll Be There, need we say more. Levi Stubbs and his three chums were still at school when they started singing as the Four Aims -- when they signed to Chess Records in the 1950's, they became the Four Tops to avoid confusion with a similarly-named band. It was in the early 60's when Motown founder Berry Gordy persuaded them to join him in Detroit, and the bits started coming. Stubbs' baritone voice was so unique the cinema world got him to do voice work on such as Little House Of Horrors, but there was nothing horrific about his singing.
6 Smokey Robinson
Perhaps none of Motown's stars have played such a pivotal role in the company as William Robinson Jr. He formed the miracles in 1955 and wrote many of their hits right through to 1972, when he semi retired to focus on being Motown Vice President. Even then he enjoyed mant solo hit singles and albums, but it's heyday with the Miracles that he'll be remembered for. Tears of a Clown, Shop Around, I Second That Emotion, You've Really Got a Hold Of Me, The Tracks Of My Tears -- nobody sung about young love like Smokey and the Miracles. As if it wasn't enough, It was Robinson had the idea of Motown itself -- when Berry Gordy got just three dollars for producing a record, Smokey told him to make his own record label, which he did!.
7 Martha and the Vandellas
There's no mystery about why Martha Reeves had such a powerful voice -- one of eleven children born in Alabama in the 1940's she had to make herself heard. Hits such as (Love is Like a) Heat Wave, Dancing in the Street and nowhere to run cemented her band as one of Motown's finest. In fact during the Beatles heyday, and the Mods and Rockers era here, it was often Vandellas that British lads chose to cover.
8 Gladys Night And the Pips
When Gladys and her band -- often featuring her brother and cousins started off, they they were the support act for Diana Ross. Until, Gladys claimed, Diana had them kicked off because her singers got more attention than the headline act. Midnight Train To Georgia, The Way We Were and Help Me Make it Through The Night were among there many hits, but Gladys had been famed in the USA since the age of seven when she won a TV talent show. She's still drawing them in today, at 70.
9 The Jackson 5
For the generation who think MICHAEL JACKSON was always a solo star, you can tell them he released three times as many albums with his brothers. And, if the 65 million sales for his thriller solo LP are still awe-inspiring, The Jackson 5 didn't do too badly, either!. Not only did Michael sound like a six year old --- which he was --- he also looked nothing like the troubled man who'd die at just 50 after his bazarre life untangled. Back in his young Motown days, though, Michael, and the other Jackson four were amazing. Tito, Jackie, Jermaine and Marlon were the brothers who helped grab hits with songs such a s ABC, I'll be there and many more.
10 Lional Richie
Lionel came along a little later, when Motown might be starting to struggle. Remember the song Video of the blind girl, Hello, is it you I'm looking for? That Lionel -- a absolute blockbuster hit, it was far from his only one, and suddenly Motown was all smiles again. All Night Long, Dancing On The Ceiling, Endless Love --- they all got the Lionel Richie super-smoochy treatment, and would be heard at many a wedding. But he had also enjoyed Motown hits with the Commodores, and when Lionel wasn't singing those songs that the ladies swooned for, he played sax, piano and drums. He's a clever lad, Lional, and had so many hits with them that Sweet Love, Three Times A Lady, Machine Gun and others were enough to put out their greatest hits Album. It's a shame really that Motown haven't thrived up to the present day. But when they ruled the airways, boy, did they know how to make records the whole world wanted to hear.
More to follow