30 Motown Records Facts – Motown the music machine
Motown was originally founded by Berry Gordy Jr. as Tamla Records on January 12, 1959 and was incorporated as Motown Record Corporation on April 14, 1960. Gordy launched the label with an $800 loan from his family and royalties earned writing for Jackie Wilson, (he co-wrote “Reet Petite” a hit for Wilson).
Berry Gordy got his start as a songwriter for local Detroit acts such as Jackie Wilson and the Matadors. Wilson’s single “Lonely Teardrops”, written by Gordy, became a huge success.
Its first hit was Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” (1959), which made it to number 2 on the Billboard R&B charts. It went on to be covered by many artists, including The Beatles in 1963 and the Flying Lizards in 1979.
Marvin Gaye was one of the co-writers of ”Dancing in the Street” (with William “Mickey” Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter). Martha and the Vandellas version reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. A 1985 duet cover by David Bowie and Mick Jagger charted at No. 1 in the UK and reached No. 7 in the US.
During the 1960s, Motown achieved spectacular success for a small label: 79 records in the top-ten of the Billboard Hot 100 between 1960 and 1969.
The Marvelettes were its first significantly successful girl group after the release of their debut single the 1961 number one “Please Mr. Postman”. It became the first Motown song to reach number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart. Marvin Gaye played drums on the track.
The Supremes were founded as The Primettes in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959.
“Where Did Our Love Go” was originally intended by Holland-Dozier-Holland for the Marvelettes, who rejected it. Recorded by The Supremes it gave them their first US Number one.
Between 1961 and 1963, the Supremes released six singles, none of which charted in the Top 40 positions of the Billboard Hot 100.They were Jokingly referred to as the “no-hit Supremes” around Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. offices.
The Four Tops were founded as the Four Aims, that began their careers together while they were high-school students in Detroit.
Levi Stubbs from the Four Tops was also a voice artist in film and animated television series, most famously having provided the voice of ‘Audrey II’, the alien plant in the 1986 musical horror comedy film Little Shop of Horrors.
Originally called the Elgins, the Temptations were formed in 1961 from the coupling of two vocal groups based in Detroit—the Primes, originally from Alabama, and the Distants.
“My Girl” at hit for The Temptations in 1964 was written by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White. Otis Redding covered the song on his album Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul.
Stevie Wonder owns the Urban Adult Contemporary radio station KJLH (102.3 FM) that serves the Los Angeles area.
The Beatles covered various Motown songs including: “Please Mr. Postman”, The Marvelettes, “You Really Got a Hold on Me”, The Miracles, “Shout”, the Isley Brothers, “Money (That’s What I Want)”, Barrett Strong.
Barrett Strong became a Motown writer lyricist, teaming with producer Norman Whitfield. Together, they wrote some of the most successful and critically acclaimed soul songs ever to be released by Motown, including “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by both Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips; “War” by Edwin Starr; “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)” by Paul Young; “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth; and the long line of ‘psychedelic soul’ records by the Temptations, including “Cloud Nine”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)”, and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”.
Songwriter Eddie Holland was an early Motown artist who recorded minor hit singles. He started working behind the scenes due to stage fright. He was a member of Holland–Dozier–Holland, the songwriting and production team responsible for much of the Motown Sound and hit records by Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Isley Brothers, among others. He has written or co-written 80 hits in the UK and 143 in the US charts.
Before signing with Motown The Jackson 5 first signed with Steeltown Records in 1967 and released two singles, “Big Boy” and “We Don’t Have to Be Over 21 (To Fall in Love)”.
On 1st April 1984 Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father at his parent’s home in Los Angeles, California. The argument started after his parents squabbled over misplaced business documents, Gaye attempted to intervene, and was killed by his father using a gun he had given him four months before. Marvin Sr. was sentenced to six years of probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
The Supremes were the most commercially successful of Motown’s acts and are, to date, America’s most successful vocal group with 12 number one singles on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Come to Me” by American singer Marv Johnson was the first ever single to be released by the Tamla Records label which would eventually become known as Motown. Johnson was discovered by Berry Gordy while Johnson performed at a carnival.
“Fingertips” by Little Stevie Wonder gave Tamla their second US number one single. It was also the first live, non-studio recording to reach number 1 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart.
In the early 70s The Jackson Five became Motown’s main marketing focus and the label capitalized on the group’s youth appeal, licensing dozens of products, including the Jackson Five heart logo on Johnny Jackson’s drum set, stickers, posters, and colouring books, as well as a board game and a Saturday morning cartoon.
Stevie Wonder signed with Motown’s Tamla label at the age of 11.
Motown was the first record label to run its own ‘charm school’ to teach artists how to perform.
In 1966, Berry Gordy refused to sign The Jackson 5 because he didn’t want to work with any more children. It was Gladys Knight who persuaded him to change his mind a year later.
The Satintones were the first group ever to record for the Motown label. The recorded six singles for the Motown label between 1959 and 1961, though they never scored a hit record.
Mable John became the first female signed by Berry Gordy to Motown’s Tamla label. She released the 1960 single “Who Wouldn’t Love a Man Like That”. After leaving Motown, John spent several years as a Raelette, backing many Ray Charles hits.
The biggest-selling Motown singles in the UK were “I Just Called To Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder, and “Hello” by Lionel Richie.
Some of the lesser-known artists who recorded for Motown in the early 60s include: Singin’ Sammy Ward, Popcorn and the Mohawks, Paul Gayten, Nick & the Jaguars, The Twistin’ Kings, The Swinging Tigers and The Golden Harmoneers.