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Thread: Motown has Soul

  1. #1

    Motown has Soul

    It has often been said that Motown recordings were aimed squarely at the pop charts, and were not as Soulful or Black as some of the other labels. This may be true of some recordings, however there are some tracks that could only be Black, and aimed very squarely at that market. This thought struck me yesterday as I listened to the Four Tops 'Something about you' - what a great piece of pounding R&B, and despite having heard it so very much, it still grabs my funk muscle and makes me twitch on the backbeat. Also most of Junior walkers mid sixties cuts fall into that category, as does The Temptations 'Ain't too proud to beg', and The Contours 'First I look at the purse'.
    What other tracks fall into that category?

    Keith - London.

  2. #2
    "...however there are some tracks that could only be Black, and aimed very squarely at that market. "

    Keith-So Mr Gordy must have got it very wrong if you liked it...and me too...cos neither of us are Black. It was my understanding that Mr Gordy made music for everyone and not for selected sections of the community.

    Perhaps you could tell me what makes a track "Black"? Then I might be able to offer an answer to your question.

  3. #3
    Gosh, too many to mention but here's a few that I think fit the bill that had that extra edge:

    Temptations - (I Know) I'm Losing You
    Martha - My Baby Loves Me/Honey Chile
    Gladys - If I Were Your Woman
    Marvelettes - I'll Keep Holding On
    Four Tops - I'm In A Different World
    Marvin Gaye - Chained
    Stevie Wonder - I Don't Know Why
    Originals - Suspicion
    Chris Clark - Love's Gone Bad (yes I know she's white)
    Yvonne Fair - It's Bad For Me To See You

  4. #4

    Why do you consider them "Black"? What is it that makes them that way. I honestly don't know what it means and I just want to understand.

    I heard an alternative 45 mix of Tammi's "Tears At The End of A Love Affair" on Manchester Radio some years ago that I still have on cassette. Richard Searling said that it was not released because it was too black sounding. It means nothing to me to say that. If it was too funky or too slow or the wrong speed, I know what that means.

  5. #5
    John, it's just that the songs I have mentioned sound more soul than pop to my ears. Not so smooth, rougher, deeper. It's all just personal taste.

  6. #6
    Do you mean it has more feeling in the vocal or that the vocal is more prominent or both.

    This one always gets me.

  7. #7
    This issue of a record or song being aimed at a particular race is
    a non intellectual discussion trying to be intellectual.

    I grew up in the fifties.

    Working middle class family.
    White by heredity.
    Couldn't afford the 77 cents for the pop 45's.

    A record store owner let me sit in the corner of his store
    and on a record player do through the hundreds of demo 45's

    I cared if they were good, not a particular aimmed market.

    Gee, I came out with before they were popular
    A Bobby Darin early record.
    A Carole King early record.

    and also
    a great record by the Ivories "I'm In Love"
    a great record by the Superiors " Don't Say Goodbye" and "Lost Love"

    Good music is good music.

    Everytime I hear "It's a Shame" it stops me in my tracks,
    as to how great a recording that it.

    I ran a big band up until 1979 also.

    Try really listening to anything
    Teddy Randazzo wrote.

    Try listening to
    Can't Take My Eyes Off of you.

    not white, not black, just great.

    This Old Heart of Mine.

    A great record.

    How about you discovering this song.

    Jay and the Techniques

    Baby Make Your Own Sweet Music

    never popular but good.


    You are not paraniod if they are really after you.


  8. #8
    it's really good that you came to love so many artists that did not come from your same background but when
    you talk about good music being the only thing important to you, you're really talking about your personal taste and
    experience. To be truthful there have been times when music was marketed to particular groups of people by their economic
    status, residential locations and by their race. And though music today is enjoyed by a spectrum of listeners, there was and still is music that can be called "black". I don't think that I am articulate enough to explain it to you but when I say black music I'm talking about music that is shaped by the aesthetics of early afro-american blues, jazz and gospel forms with most of the ornaments of those styles intact. It doesn't matter if it's appeal extends beyond it's primary audience. It doesn't even matter of many musicians and singers taking up the form are not black themselves. Just as Wynton Marsalis
    playing Bach at Lincoln Center knows he's playing European Classical Music, Eric Clapton singing Dust My Broom knew he was
    covering black music.
    As far as the myth that Motown was devoid of soul, I'd say Berry Gordy legendary crossover pop ambitions are to blame for that. It was different than it's competitors but it was there as already mentioned in Jr Walker, Shorty Long, Marvin, Gladys,
    David, even Rick James...

  9. #9
    Thank you edafan.....i

    I'm now going on youtube for the Ivories and Superiors songs....that's what makes me want to listen to a song, not cos I'm supposed to like or not like it.

    I told this guy I had just bought Rick James' "You And I" cos I loved it. He says, why you buying that stuff, you're not black. I was a bit upset by it.

  10. #10
    I was fortunate to study music from the fifth grade up.
    I was the 4th best trombone player in the Lynn Public Schools Senior Band
    for 6 years. Little did I know that the old gent giving me lessons
    was John Phillips Sousa's soloist until I read his obituary in the
    late 60's. My dad marched me down to the union hall, paid the first
    year's dues, and after high school I played in band concerts
    and in the North Shore Philharmonic orchestra. In college some gigs
    were in a lounge playing/doubling the bass lines to "I Feel Good"
    by James Brown. I ran a big band for teachers/students in my
    high school town until 1979.
    In each venue I found something I loved, not mainly my taste,
    but a musical appreciation of the complexity.
    Try La Gazza Lardra
    Try Ride of the Valkirites

    I understand that music is an art form,
    and it is reflections of the time it is created.

    For obscure fifties
    try Charlie and Ray I love You Madly and Sweet Thing
    Try anything by the Pentagons

    Want a fun listen

    Try the Tads Wolf Call
    Try the Tads She is My Dream

    I must admit that in the fifties
    I loved a summer replacemnt show
    for Jackie Gleason starring the Dorsey Brothers Band
    I love watching concert VHS's DVD's of great more modern
    Doobie Brothers were great musicians
    Funk Brothers on anything
    Sly Stone was initially a writer and just to watch the man and his group
    on Soul Train, etc. is a treat
    All motown DVD's etc.
    All Stax
    All soul.

    Now for the historical part.

    Try to find a Documentary called Chicago
    about how people stole money, rights from early Blues/soul musicians
    like Muddy Waters etc.
    Until a great man Curtis Mayfield stood up against all the money mongers
    and got the right to produce/sell his own stuff.

    Go down to the south in Texas, where the less than honest
    producers stole money/rights from Buddy Holly.

    My late brother in law was the music and chess critic
    for the Washington Post.

    o k folks

    What's a contra bassoon ?

    Last edited by edafan; 08-08-2010 at 12:42 PM.

  11. #11
    I recently purchased the Isley Brothers Motown Anthology (thank you, England, for taking the initiative to reissue these gems!), and I felt like a lot of the Isleys' cuts were more "soulful." Case in point: the Isleys' "No Good Without You" and the "Shout" clone "You've Got So Much To Shout About"....dig the soulful wail on the intro and the gospel-inspired call-and-answer chorus.
    Last edited by vcq; 08-08-2010 at 03:53 PM.

  12. #12
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    I resent that a lot of people say that Motown's records didn't have "soul" like those of Stax. Any time people lump a whole group of things into one category and makes a blanket statement about them, they are bound to be wrong. To me, Motown is Soul Music. And, their product ran the gamut of African-American music styles.
    Last edited by robb_k; 08-09-2010 at 02:31 PM.

  13. #13
    I think this is a discussion rooted in and coming out of the 60's, from people who grew up in the 50's, 60's or 70's.

    I think it has become an anachronistic, obsolete discussion that historically doesn't matter. It did in the 1960's when there were race records and when you couldn't get played on radio stations unless you were country or R & B or pop.

    Berry Gordy is the guy that finessed all of that.

    Some of us might persist in splitting hairs and saying that Aretha Franklin had more soul than Diana Ross, the Supremes, Martha Reeves, Tammi Terrell. Those people, us, are the people than know this music intimately. To suggest to most of the CD buying public in Europe and North America that Motown did not have soul or was not soul music and was pop music is laughable.

    You stick the label on it that you want but it clearly had soul. I will never buy that My World Is Empty Without You, Come See About Me, Stop in the Name of Love, Love is Like An Itching in my Heart, all coming from Motown's premiere plastic soul act, are not soul/r&b records.

  14. #14
    Oh yes, it would appear that the dust is settling and the old forum is back. I love this thread but before I comment, I want to let this thing percolate for a while and then return.

    Motown has soul ? Dam right !

    Really don't want to discuss marketing or race records....hmmmmmmmmm

    Sound and content of recordings , that I will discuss.......

    Being an avid radio listener........could I tell if an artist was black or white by sound ?

    Answer : Yes

    Did I really care : no

    example: Temptations vs Beatles

    I liked them both..........more later........

    Were there exceptions to the rule: always.......

  15. #15
    ...what makes a Motown track 'Black'?

    As a white guy ...I always enjoyed ...but felt a little odd ...singing along to this one


  16. #16


    Grape that was frigging hilarious, you certainly answered the question, quite eloquently too......man as soon as I heard the intro I was floored..........

  17. #17
    Motown had Soul, Rhythm, Gospel, Blues, Doo Wop, Jazz, Traditional and Classical music incorporated in the MT sound. It was a new format of music back then. Other soul labels developed their own Soul signiture, and it's hard to draw a line what to call Soul music and what not. The questions which genre of music represents this song or that song is much to overrated. I believe when the song speaks to you and touched your heart, it's Soul music.

  18. #18
    I don't understand how anyone who has been a fan of soul/R&B for any length of time has to ask the question 'What makes a track Black'. It's the reason I like 'Shake rattle and roll' by Joe Turner but not by Bill Hayley.
    I am reminded of the apocryphal question asked of a Jazz musician 'What is Jazz', to which the reply was given 'If you have to ask that, you'll never know'
    Mr Gordy didn't get it wrong, I liked the music that came out of Motown because, despite being a white guy from the London suburbs, I am a Soul/R&B fan.
    I can't think of any Stax recordings from the Blue label period that were aimed at the pop charts, they were designed to be popular on the R&B charts. Berry Gordy generally made records that would have crossover appeal in both the R&B and pop charts, but my point is there were some that seemed to have more appeal to a soul/R&B (Black) market than to a pop one.

    I'm not trying to be intellectual, but the period I am primarily talking about is the 60s, and it's a matter of historical fact that the pop and R&B charts were very separate, and music was aimed at a specific one. Motown were instrumental in blurring the boundaries, although I think the Cameo and Parkway labels also did something similar, also to a lesser degree, Vee Jay records.

    I am not saying Motown isn't soul, just that some of it is more pop slanted than others.

    Your eloquent post sums up what I am talking about. The roots of blues and Gospel in music can't be removed.

    I'm with you entirely, one of my favourite acts was the Isley Brothers because that Gospel feel was always present in their work, no matter how commercial it was.

    "Being an avid radio listener........could I tell if an artist was black or white by sound ?
    Answer : Yes"

    There are many examples of White acts singing in a Soul/R&B style, who made inroads in the R&B charts because they were believed to be black. A few that spring to mind:
    The Riteous Brothers.
    Love is after me - Charlie Rich (written by Hayes & Porter)
    Used to be love - Lindell Hill
    Get involved - George Soule
    and I have always maintained that one of the most authentic Soul/R&B voices to be put into a White man is Tom Jones. Forget the chart hits, listen to him do Chuck Jacksons 'I wake up crying', Bobby Blands 'Turn on your lovelight', Jimmy McCracklins 'Think' or Howling Wolfs '300lbs of heavenly joy', he is a great soul/R&B singer, regardless of colour.

    By the same token, there are examples of Black artists sounding more Pop than Soul. The one that leaps to my mind being Robert Knight.

    There are quite a few tracks that fall into that category. How can I sing along to 'Say it loud (I'm black and I'm proud)' with any conviction. (Ahh, with your bad self!!!)

  19. #19
    The irony that some people don't understand is that while Motown and Stax were seen as different, they really weren't musically. PLUS both labels wanted to present their music to EVERYBODY. And they're both SOUL music. What made Motown different was Berry wanted to make some of his acts popular with audiences who were familiar to variety acts and nightclub performers. Other than that, the music was always essential soul music. It's just that folks of all colors dug it. Matter of fact, what Motown did was no different to what rock music in the fifties did or even what people like Louis Jordan or Louis Armstrong did. Motown's amazing story was that it, alongside early rock of the mid-fifties, took away that stupid "color line division" or at least let people know that EVERYONE dug it. Same with Stax. "Soul Man" may have been earthy soul but the song became real popular with white audiences also. Another irony of course is most of Motown's background musicians were black (with few exceptions), most of Stax's were white (with few exceptions) and it really made no difference other than the location. Both Motown and Stax would guarantee you barbecue ribs and collard greens, don't get it twisted. LOL

  20. #20
    I hope I don't appear overly pedantic, but I think the Stax musicians were a 50/50 White/Black mix. The Muscle Shoals musicians, who created some of the funkiest grooves on record were mostly white. To me, a bigger irony is that Stax were White owned until the late 60s.

  21. #21
    Yeah that's about right, Keith lol

  22. #22
    I don't understand how anyone who has been a fan of soul/R&B for any length of time has to ask the question 'What makes a track Black'

    That's OK Keith. I won't expect an answer from you then.

  23. #23
    i always thought that instead of imitating "pop" motown redesigned it by being covered by the beatles and and the mersey beat and a whole heap of other 60's brit pop groups it changed pop music for a few years.in other words motown soul became the pattern for 60's pop until the pop groups forked off to the flower power and prog rock although prog tended to be more blues based but even then the influence of the previous brit pop filtered thru

  24. #24
    Being a teenager in the 80s I saw the same musical diversions and I still today dont understand and why it occurs.
    I was 12 it was 1986 in Liverpool and I was hit with Diana and The Supremes bug,No one I went to school with listened to Motown,I left Liverpool to start a new life in New Zealand and one of my best friends,Alicia gave me some of her mums 45s as a leaving present (Someday well Be Together/Why Must We Fall in love/You Are Everything and Reach Out and Touch).
    These really started my Motown bug.
    Liverpool is a very musical city so landing in New Zealand was a big culture shock.I was the only kid at school who listened to janet Jackson,Ruby Turner or Diana Ross - The kids I went to school with didnt buy any black artists.period.I bought tracy Chapman they all bought Bon Jovi,INXS or Def Leppard.
    I knew no one who liked Soul for a long,long,time....
    Did my school mates make a concious desicion not to buy music based on an artists skin colour? I dont know..and I dont know whats soul music today..Bette Midler singing Superstar has soul.(To Me).
    Nothing breeds contempt more than success and Motown was the definition of success...Everyone has soul.

  25. #25
    Motown made tons of "soulful" records, but the more "pop" sounding material simply was more popular. Don't forget, it's Show BUSINESS; Mr. Gordy's first responsibility was to keep the company successful. If "Pucker Up Buttercup" or "Function at the Junction" had gone to Number 1, there would have been alot more records with that sound instead of "Baby Love". In the end, the only important color is green.

  26. #26
    In some respects, I agree about Green. But in artistic respects, in cultural aspects, in the way of the world.........."if white is right and black is beautiful, when can brown begin" should say a lot more. And I think Motown was so much of that........... itneeded to make Mr. Green so it had to play to Mr. White to make them accept Mr. Black so that brown could begin. And they pulled it off with a perfection that is now long gone in the music world.

    As I wrote earlier, I think a lot of this thinking about Motown having no soul sometimes and being plastic is obsolete and doesn't matter; but I absolutely know there are many on this forum that would say I am naive and what I've said is foolishness because I had no idea what it was like; and I would totally disagree.

  27. #27
    Many of the tracks from Motowns' early days fit that bill.

    A lot of Blues & some R&B was recorded in those early days.

  28. #28
    There is no line in the sand on this one- its our own personal perceptions of a label or a box if you see fit to caterogize in that way.Take Madonna - her first "12 inche single had no picture of her - just a picture of people on the street -'Black' radio played it - peolpe didnt know she was white....Whitney booed at The Soul train Awards the reason? people felt she had gone "Too white" - which really says more about the person or the media or the critics than it says about the artist.
    Is MJs Thriller lp pop or soul?
    The british media turned on Five Star in the 80s -only Madonna sold more singles -and thats alot of singles they were heralded as the next jackson Five yet they lost their "soul" fans and the pop audience that filled Wembley Arena only a year before.
    My view is this if-its-popular-then-it has-no-soul has not only dogged Motown but other huge acts like Ive mentioned..phew I need a cigarette now..

  29. #29
    What I was trying to say but obviously didn't articulate well, to me what makes a track Black is somewhat indefinable. Speaking personally as a long time fan of the music, when I hear it, I know it. I suppose it's the roots of the music - Gospel and blues coming through. I could cite things like phrasing, the style of call and response singing, blue notes, ad lib testifying, the gospel style scream, wailing saxes etc.

    A good example is how many Soul artists have taken a Country song, a genre I am not a fan of, but when they put their slant on it some of those tracks are complete treasures.
    Listen to how Solomon Burke takes a syrupy ballad, Jim Reeves' 'He'll have to go' and puts a complete different spin on it. It has a hard edge.
    Tami Wynettes' schmaltzy 'Stand by your man' is given a real testifying treatment by Candi Staton.
    Another example, a hymn that many of us good children would have sung in Sunday school 'What a friend we have in Jesus'. Think of the way you might have sung that, then listen to the way The Mighty Clouds of Joy interpret it - that is something that could only could have come out of a Black American church.

    tamla 617:
    The Motown tracks that I was thinking about come from the classic big hits period, probably 64 to 67. The tracks that the Beatles covered were from the earlier period, but I think that a good example of what I was saying above, about what makes a track Black (or in this case, White) is how the Beatles diluted the Soul in 'You've really got a hold on me'.

    You're right, a lot of those tracks that you are referring to like Sammy Ward, Mable John, early Stevie Wonder etc were real R&B, but came before the identifiable Motown sound had been created.

    I have never shared the 'if it's not popular it has no soul' point of view. It just means that the fickle record buying masses have suddenly got a rare jolt of good taste.
    Midnight hour, and Higher and higher, both sold well in the UK, but still sound great to me and none the less Soulful for their success.

  30. #30
    F**k race, it's all good music at the end of the day.

  31. #31
    my son came out of his xbox filled room last night and there i was STILL tiling the bathroom to my heap of motown cds why are you playing all this gospel stuff? i said that aint gospel.we've done gospel at school (larf?) i know what gospel sounds like.i had the isley's anthololgy at the time.the gospel came thru to my son,i'd listened to them since 19canteen and to me it was just the isleys/motown,to "new ears" it was gospel picked up on by a 14 year old.go and get your kids to listen and ask them is it black,white or (more likely) does it matter.

  32. #32
    "Being an avid radio listener........could I tell if an artist was black or white by sound ?
    Answer : Yes"

    There are many examples of White acts singing in a Soul/R&B style, who made inroads in the R&B charts because they were believed to be black....
    I agree but that wasn't my point.......there were and are black artists who also sound white...like The 5th Dimension, but I wasn't really going there, Wayne Cochran came to mind as well........

    My point was that "ears" usually don't lie and its not the color of the artist but the resultant product that the artist produces.

    Now back to your original post, Motown indeed had soul, I love the record "First I look at the Purse" by the Contours, to me it was one of the first records were the "Funks" defined their sound. Man that record still burns turntables today. Later on The Temptations would use similar arrangements in their songs.

    When the Beatles broke bad, back in the day, we used to sing their little ditty's on the way to school and after school in the playground, often taking the lyrics and rearranging them in order to parody or signify amongst ourselves. But we didn't play the Beatles at parties, we opted instead for The Miracles, Tempts & Supremes etc. Did we like the Beatles, hell yes, as most teenagers did at that time, but we absolutely loved Motown.

    Like many here I was never a fan of country music although there were several that come to mind as being highly listenable and clever. The older generation of my family loved the Blues and growing up, I found that certain records by blues artists,
    BB King's "Sweet 16" & Bobby Blands "Turn on Your Love Light" were flat out jams. Another cut of my youth that I fell in love with was "Funny" by Joe Hinton, as well as numerous songs by Brook Benton, Dinah Washington and others.

    And lets not forget that many of Motown's pop sounding recordings(Four Tops/Supremes) were slowly changing to all out funk & soul, with Stevie and Marvin, followed by the Temptations and others changing the face of popular music as we knew it. Whatever the argument........ "The Sound of Young America" as well as those of Stax/Atlantic and later Philly International were all good and those of us that love them will enjoy them forevermore.

  33. #33
    I'm not trying to be intellectual, but the period I am primarily talking about is the 60s, and it's a matter of historical fact that the pop and R&B charts were very separate, and music was aimed at a specific one. Motown were instrumental in blurring the boundaries, although I think the Cameo and Parkway labels also did something similar, also to a lesser degree, Vee Jay records."

    I could never understand why the pop charts and R&B were separate charts.

    Good music is just good music. Having studied/played in many different music areas,
    R&B as best examples are Mtown Stax Muscle Schoals etc, remains my favorite area.

    I didn't like covers in the fifties outdoing the original sounds.
    Elvis covered them.
    The Diamonds covered them.
    A Thousand Stars by the Riveleers is way better than Kathy Young's pop smash.

    By the way, a friend of mine played on a tour with Elvis Presley.
    He said Elvis was a great guy: he would some down and have a beer or coffee with
    the guys/musicians. He said all of his handlers were absolute jerks.


  34. #34
    edafan - "Blurring the boundaries" as you put it- is the perfect term to describe it.

  35. #35
    A few of the most soulful, less pop Motown songs, for me were:

    Runaway Child Running Wild
    I'll Be Doggone
    Twenty Five Miles
    As mentioned, all the Junior Walker songs
    It's A Shame
    I Don't Want To Do Wrong
    Signed Sealed Delivered
    My Whole World Ended
    Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing
    Do You Love Me?
    Hunter Gets Captured by the Game
    Don't Mess With Bill


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