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UNIT 7; P. 222-235.docx

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University of Guelph
MUSC 2150
Lise Smedmor

UNIT 7 (P. 222-235) CHAPTER 6: MOTOWN POP AND SOUTHERN SOUL Intro  Until early 60’s, many African-Americans blocks from mainstream success by white covers o Majority of African-American recording artists signed to independent labels, and recordings’ popularity could be easily eclipsed by major label versions  British invasion bands took much of early inspiration from African-American popular music  By 1965, situation in youth-music market had significantly improved for black artists wanting mainstream hits  Among most important developments was music that came from Motown Records (independent company; most important era of success parallels that of the Beatles) and the emergence of southern soul from Memphis  American rock press that emerged in mid-60’s often cast Motown as black pop music that made too many concessions to white sensibilities – selling out its “blackness” to make money in white market; while southern soul portrayed as music that makes no excuses for its blackness, staying closer to origins in black culture o Perception of racial authenticity after music accepted into white mainstream o Crossover so prevalent; December ’63 – January ’65, Billboard stopped tracking R&B charts separately Berry Gordy, Jr. and Black Music for White Audiences Go Where the Money Is: White Kids and Disposable Income  Berry Gordy, Jr.: professional boxer in Detroit area, worked for father’s construction company, owned a record store, and worked on Ford assembly line; spent a lot of time in Detroit’s jazz clubs – jazz = not key to success in music business! o Began writing songs for Detroiter/former boxer, singer Jackie Wilson o Worked with sister Gwen Gordy and Roquel “Billy” Davis (Tyran Carlo), writing several hits for Wilson o Also wrote and produced songs for other Detroit singers/musicians, leasing recordings to labels in NY and Chicago o In 1959 formed Motown Records; first hit record: Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want)”  During his first few years in business, modeled his releases on already successful records (girl- group hits of Brill Building and Isley Brothers’ style of the early 60’s) o Enormous potential in producing records that could cross over from R&B to pop charts o Adopted Chuck Berry’s strategy, preventing covers of his songs by white artists, by making Motown singles acceptable to white listeners in their original versions (i.e. appeal to white teens)  Interest in accommodating white tastes aligned closely with Gordy’s roots in black middle class and emerging Civil Rights movement’  Not “selling out” because of culture he grew up in o Early label success in R&B market o Through 60’s Motown releases charted higher in R&B charts than pop charts o First target audience: white teens; later, older middle-class audiences who frequented upscale supper clubs Adapting the Brill Building Production Model  Gordy gave songwriting and production duties to a collection of specialized individuals and teams, using a model that had been established by Leiber and Stoller a few years earlier  From ’60-’64, Gordy, William “Mickey” Stevenson and William “Smokey” Robinson handled many of songwriting and production duties  First consistently successful Motown group: the Miracles, fronted by Robinson o Robinson among Motown’s most successful producers  Years between ’64 and ’67 at Motown dominated by the success of the Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland team – “H-D-H” o Responsible for a string of hits by the Supremes, the Four Tops, and Martha and the Vandellas o Left Motown and stopped producing music in late ’67 over a royalty dispute o Dissatisfaction of H-D-H team with Gordy’s controlling interest in Motown echoed a common complaint about the company through the years; but Gordy able to facilitate creation of enormously popular music  Following H-D-H, Norman Whitfield emerged as label’s most successful producer with a series of singles by the Temptations through early 70’s  Late 60’s: Valerie Ashford and Nick Simpson (series of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell duets), Frank Wilson (collab. With Supremes and the Four Tops) The Studio, the Band, and Quality Control  Through most of the 60’s, Motown recordings at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit: “Hitsville, USA”  Like Phil Spector in LA, Motown producers had a gifted and experienced group of studio musicians… from Detroit’s lively jazz scene; created parts on the spot, often without benefit of scored-out parts or completed formal design (only general idea of chords and rhythms producers wanted) o Key players: pianist Earl Van Dyke, drummer Benny Benjamin, electric bassist James Jamerson – the Funk Brothers (key to the “Motown Sound”)  Once per week, Gordy gathered staff together for “quality control” meetings, testing each song, arrangement and recorded sound; potential releases presented for Motown employees and sometimes members of the community, to vote on which songs would be released that week o Good barometer for song’s potential success, though vote went against a now-classic “I Heard It through the Grapevine” – released after a cover of the same song rose up in the charts (and thus Marvin Gaye’s version was extremely successful once released) Artist Development and Professional Choreography  According to Gordy’s philosophy, Motown artists had to project an image of class and sophistication – refined and graceful dance movements for live performances by Broadway choreographer Cholly Atkins o “The charm school” – Maxine Powell, taught men and women how to move and speak with grace; aim for performances at elegant supper clubs The Motown Artists The Supremes  Mid-late 60’s; formed in Detroit 1959 when Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown started a quartet called the Primettes (sister group to the Primes, later the Temptations), but McGlown left and the three tried to convince Gordy to sign them o Were signed, but initially unsuccessful o H-D-H took over production and song-writing duties, and they hit in ’64 with, “Where Did Our Love Go?” and cont’d to produce hits o Ross made leader for her evocative voice o Ballard left in ’67 from personal issues and replaced by Cindy Birdsong  Group later became Diana Ross and the Supremes with growing leader stature  Ross left the group in late ’69 to focus on solo career, which was successful; Jean Terrell replaced her and the group scored more pop hits in the 70’s The Supremes and Holland-Dozier-Holland  From ’64-’67, the teaming of H-D-H with the Supremes produced a series of hits that made H-D- H one of the most successful writing and production teams in po
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