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  1. Putting Motown Into The Context Of Its Time

    This is a little something I came across in a book I hadn't read in some time. Struck me as an excellent blueprint of how Berry Gordy may have developed his psychology concerning just what the Motown Sound had to be for success across the board.

    "To achieve lasting success in the white market, with all its opportunities for wealth...it was not possible to achieve such fame upon the vocal talents of a black group in isolation. Their records required an extra sophistication. To reach the white market and remain successful in it neccessitated surrounding black groups with the customary trappings of the popular white singer. Harmony was saccrificed as a chorus of chanting girls, elaborate percussion, a string orchestra and a heavenly choir became the norm. For the casual listener, it became increasingly difficult to distinguish a record made by a group from one made by a solo performer. Apart from the lead singer, the remainder of the group were now content to mouth an unobtrusive drift of stereotyped "oohs" and "aahs." There was little point in doing anything else for, very soon, even this small contribution was drowned amidst a welter of instrumental combinations. Moreover, a female chours...allowed no room for the exquisite harmony for which black groups had previously been noted."
    Last edited by WaitingWatchingLookingForAChance; 05-26-2020 at 12:41 AM.

  2. #2
    What book was that?....

  3. #3
    As I read the excerpt you posted, my mind went back to the 1950s. Early RnB groups like the Clovers and the Dominoes and even solo singers such as Clyde McPhatter eventually went towards the route laid out in the excerpt. Marv Goldberg uses a term, "Dread Chorus", that describes the practice of using white singers as background singers in RnB music. The reason for doing so was to make the music more "pop", with dreams of crossover success and increased financial gain as well as bookings in more upscale establishments.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by lockhartgary View Post
    As I read the excerpt you posted, my mind went back to the 1950s. Early RnB groups like the Clovers and the Dominoes and even solo singers such as Clyde McPhatter eventually went towards the route laid out in the excerpt. Marv Goldberg uses a term, "Dread Chorus", that describes the practice of using white singers as background singers in RnB music. The reason for doing so was to make the music more "pop", with dreams of crossover success and increased financial gain as well as bookings in more upscale establishments.
    I'm familiar with Marv ideology...

    http://www.uncamarvy.com/DreadChorus/dreadchorus.html

    but I don't think this is what WaitingWatching is referring to...Even still I think of at least
    3 cases of white choral groups were used on Black male artists records and the songs still
    worked to their favor....Can you guess them?...

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    I'm familiar with Marv ideology...

    http://www.uncamarvy.com/DreadChorus/dreadchorus.html

    but I don't think this is what WaitingWatching is referring to...Even still I think of at least
    3 cases of white choral groups were used on Black male artists records and the songs still
    worked to their favor....Can you guess them?...
    Same Cooke's "You Send Me" for one. "Only Sixteen" for another.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by marv2 View Post
    Same Cooke's "You Send Me" for one. "Only Sixteen" for another.
    Pretty good there, Marv but I wasn't exactly as clear as I could have been. Sam recorded a few of them, but I'm thinking of 2 other singers too...

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    Pretty good there, Marv but I wasn't exactly as clear as I could have been. Sam recorded a few of them, but I'm thinking of 2 other singers too...
    Thanks Splanky. I know they used them on Roy Hamilton's records. They did that on Ray Charles' " I Can't Stop Loving You".

  8. #8
    Ray Charles I Can't Stop Loving You is my third one but because it's a curve-ball. Ray
    covered what was originally a country music song. I'd forgotten about Roy Hamilton.
    While I wait and see if I'll ever get an answer for my original question of the thread starter
    I may as well tell you I was remembering Jackie Wilson's Baby Workout...

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    Ray Charles I Can't Stop Loving You is my third one but because it's a curve-ball. Ray
    covered what was originally a country music song. I'd forgotten about Roy Hamilton.
    While I wait and see if I'll ever get an answer for my original question of the thread starter
    I may as well tell you I was remembering Jackie Wilson's Baby Workout...
    Oh yeah, they did that to Jackie. That practice did not stop in the 50s. Check this out. It is from 1981


  10. #10
    Well, at least that didn't happen on the original recording. Hell, that's the best back-up
    Burbank, CA could provide my girl?...Dang!....

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    Well, at least that didn't happen on the original recording. Hell, that's the best back-up
    Burbank, CA could provide my girl?...Dang!....
    They wanted to keep it toned down! LOL! Can you imagine if they got Tawatha and them to do the background? The roof would have come clean off!

  12. #12
    I get you guys' rationale and all. Really, I do. Duly noted. But for me, BG's use of the Andantes, some Tops & Temps, STILL does it for ME!!

  13. Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    What book was that?....
    Hi Splanky. Sorry, I had intended to come back to this much earlier today but instead got on a never-ending treadmill of dealing with the UPS searching for a missing package and now I'm at work. Weee!

    The book is "The Drifters: The Rise and Fall of the Black Vocal Group" by Bill Millar. It came out in 1971. I stumbled upon it in a second hand shop some 30 years ago.

    So much of what Mr. Millar writes about the group as well as the evolution of black music from doo wop to soul sheds light on so much of we hear on Motown records. Actually, it sheds light on so much of black music in general but my primary interest is always Motown.

    Coming to Motown music in the mid-seventies, I think I tended to view Motown as a world unto itself, but the more you live (and read) the more you learn. I remember a dj played the Isley Brothers' version of "There's No Love Left". I kept thinking, how cool the Four Tops are singing with the Isleys! Then, as if reading my mind, the dj remarked that the Isley Brothers were sounding like the Four Tops because the Tops' producers made 'em sound that way. They were Motownized! Identifiable harmonies were being sacrificed for more of a chorale sound.

    Now I can see where this trend began and it was way before Motown started doing it.
    Last edited by WaitingWatchingLookingForAChance; 05-26-2020 at 07:00 PM.

  14. Quote Originally Posted by nativeNY63 View Post
    I get you guys' rationale and all. Really, I do. Duly noted. But for me, BG's use of the Andantes, some Tops & Temps, STILL does it for ME!!
    I gotta admit, when I was discovering all these Motown groups, it was that background style of blending in The Andantes with some of the male groups that I found fascinating. I was young enough that I thought they were getting the Four Tops to help sing on a whole ton of records! I thought they were helping the Contours on "Just A Little Misunderstanding"! For me, I could tell a Motown record from everyone else by the drums, bass and background vocals.

  15. Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    I'm familiar with Marv ideology...

    http://www.uncamarvy.com/DreadChorus/dreadchorus.html

    but I don't think this is what WaitingWatching is referring to...Even still I think of at least
    3 cases of white choral groups were used on Black male artists records and the songs still
    worked to their favor....Can you guess them?...
    Wow! Nice link! And even though you're right that this isn't totally what I had in mind, it veers pretty dangerously close to it.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by lockhartgary View Post
    As I read the excerpt you posted, my mind went back to the 1950s. Early RnB groups like the Clovers and the Dominoes and even solo singers such as Clyde McPhatter eventually went towards the route laid out in the excerpt. Marv Goldberg uses a term, "Dread Chorus", that describes the practice of using white singers as background singers in RnB music. The reason for doing so was to make the music more "pop", with dreams of crossover success and increased financial gain as well as bookings in more upscale establishments.
    They began using the "Dread Chorus" on Little Richard's final Specialty album, I think. Same with Ray Charles with "Georgia on My Mind" though in Ray's case, it worked and he no longer was resigned to the chitlin' circuit.

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    I'm familiar with Marv ideology...

    http://www.uncamarvy.com/DreadChorus/dreadchorus.html

    but I don't think this is what WaitingWatching is referring to...Even still I think of at least
    3 cases of white choral groups were used on Black male artists records and the songs still
    worked to their favor....Can you guess them?...
    Sorry to be late to the party. I was just sharing what popped into my head after I read the original post. I would not have guessed the 3 cases anyhow.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by WaitingWatchingLookingForAChance View Post
    Hi Splanky. Sorry, I had intended to come back to this much earlier today but instead got on a never-ending treadmill of dealing with the UPS searching for a missing package and now I'm at work. Weee!

    The book is "The Drifters: The Rise and Fall of the Black Vocal Group" by Bill Millar. It came out in 1971. I stumbled upon it in a second hand shop some 30 years ago.

    So much of what Mr. Millar writes about the group as well as the evolution of black music from doo wop to soul sheds light on so much of we hear on Motown records. Actually, it sheds light on so much of black music in general but my primary interest is always Motown.

    Coming to Motown music in the mid-seventies, I think I tended to view Motown as a world unto itself, but the more you live (and read) the more you learn. I remember a dj played the Isley Brothers' version of "There's No Love Left". I kept thinking, how cool the Four Tops are singing with the Isleys! Then, as if reading my mind, the dj remarked that the Isley Brothers were sounding like the Four Tops because the Tops' producers made 'em sound that way. They were Motownized! Identifiable harmonies were being sacrificed for more of a chorale sound.

    Now I can see where this trend began and it was way before Motown started doing it.
    Thanks for this response. Now I want to read that book. As a child I had these odd little
    notions about Motown as a company believing they were like this big close knit family
    and everybody had their chores. I thought of Junior Walker having to play tenor sax on
    everybody's hit records and Stevie Wonder doing the same on harmonica.LOL...thankfully, I soon got over that....

  19. #19
    By the way, Bill Millar wrote another book on the Coasters (one of my favorite groups) entitled "The Coasters" in 1974. I ordered it years ago on Ebay or Amazon (I forget which). About to re-read it.

  20. #20
    The choral group worked well on "A Lover's Question" by Clyde McPhatter.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by lockhartgary View Post
    By the way, Bill Millar wrote another book on the Coasters (one of my favorite groups) entitled "The Coasters" in 1974. I ordered it years ago on Ebay or Amazon (I forget which). About to re-read it.
    Another book I'd like to read...Well, I found out this morning that my library system does
    indeed have the Drifters book in two branches but neither circulates it (research only) and I can't go to the branch to read it since all are closed due to this damndemic... o well..just have to wait a bit....

  22. #22
    Name:  Drifters.JPG
Views: 256
Size:  39.8 KB

    In case anyone is interested in purchasing Drifters book. Site is
    https://www.alibris.com/booksearch?k...&hs.x=0&hs.y=0

  23. Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    Thanks for this response. Now I want to read that book. As a child I had these odd little
    notions about Motown as a company believing they were like this big close knit family
    and everybody had their chores. I thought of Junior Walker having to play tenor sax on
    everybody's hit records and Stevie Wonder doing the same on harmonica.LOL...thankfully, I soon got over that....
    Oh but what a beautiful notion to have of Motown! Actually it isn't way off the mark as there were artists who appeared on each other's records, but I get what you're talking about!

  24. Quote Originally Posted by lockhartgary View Post
    By the way, Bill Millar wrote another book on the Coasters (one of my favorite groups) entitled "The Coasters" in 1974. I ordered it years ago on Ebay or Amazon (I forget which). About to re-read it.
    Thanks gary! I didn't know about the Coasters book by Bill. I'm going to check Amazon/ ebay for it. By the way, Mr. Millar writes in such depth and in a scholarly manner, which I appreciate; but I get the feeling he was a rather intense when it came to his love of "pure" black music in the form of doo wop and R&B as opposed to Soul music. I also don't think he has much love for Motown.
    Last edited by WaitingWatchingLookingForAChance; 05-27-2020 at 05:26 PM.

  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by WaitingWatchingLookingForAChance View Post
    Thanks gary! I didn't know about the Coasters book by Bill. I'm going to check Amazon/ ebay for it. By the way, Mr. Millar writes in such depth and in a scholarly manner, which I appreciate; but I get the feeling he was a rather intense when it came to his love of "pure" black music in the form of doo wop and R&B as opposed to Soul music. I also don't think he has much love for Motown.
    This is where things get a little blurry and I get more anxious to read Millar's work. Over
    50 years has passed since his Coasters and Drifters books were written. Definitions
    of "pure" black music and distinctions between R&B and soul music have evolved. In that
    time too, not only did white doo wop groups pop up much of what became known as
    Soul music had roots in African American gospel music traditions and you can't get any
    blacker than that...

  26. Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    This is where things get a little blurry and I get more anxious to read Millar's work. Over
    50 years has passed since his Coasters and Drifters books were written. Definitions
    of "pure" black music and distinctions between R&B and soul music have evolved. In that
    time too, not only did white doo wop groups pop up much of what became known as
    Soul music had roots in African American gospel music traditions and you can't get any
    blacker than that...
    Yeah, I just have this feeling Mr. Millar had this conceit that black music was NOT supposed to have any elements of pop, an emphatic beat or much of anything else that smacked of a "white" influence. He even seems to take issue with the whole notion of choreography in live performances.

    One thing I especially find somewhat condescending in the Drifters book is how he seems to feel that there is something phony about groups and songwriters who he felt were in it strictly for the money. Millar, to me, strikes a sort of attitude that if you're not writing songs or singing strictly because of the love of music, you're not genuine. But who on this earth could ever afford to be a songwriter or performer just for the love of music? Ya gotta make a living.

  27. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by WaitingWatchingLookingForAChance View Post
    Yeah, I just have this feeling Mr. Millar had this conceit that black music was NOT supposed to have any elements of pop, an emphatic beat or much of anything else that smacked of a "white" influence. He even seems to take issue with the whole notion of choreography in live performances.

    One thing I especially find somewhat condescending in the Drifters book is how he seems to feel that there is something phony about groups and songwriters who he felt were in it strictly for the money. Millar, to me, strikes a sort of attitude that if you're not writing songs or singing strictly because of the love of music, you're not genuine. But who on this earth could ever afford to be a songwriter or performer just for the love of music? Ya gotta make a living.
    I guess all of the dips, spins and steps of 70's male vocal groups must have drove him
    crazy...Okay, I can expect him to be a bit of an absolutist but I still want to read him for
    whatever insight he has about those two groups...

  28. Quote Originally Posted by splanky View Post
    I guess all of the dips, spins and steps of 70's male vocal groups must have drove him
    crazy...Okay, I can expect him to be a bit of an absolutist but I still want to read him for
    whatever insight he has about those two groups...
    Oh for sure! I definitely want the book he wrote about the Coasters. For all of his boo-hooing the decline of black music, Bill Millar does know his stuff. I like his scholarly way of writing and you can tell he's very passionate about his subjects. To be honest, I never paid much attention to the Drifters until I read that book. Like you said, he does give you a lot of insights on these groups and the music business.

  29. #29
    Sadly, of course, in crossing over, much was sacrificed. The Supremes were lucky, in a sense, in that the live act and some of the themed albums allowed Mary and Flo a little opportunity to display their talents. Other groups, especially the female ones, were not so fortunate.

  30. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by WaitingWatchingLookingForAChance View Post
    Yeah, I just have this feeling Mr. Millar had this conceit that black music was NOT supposed to have any elements of pop, an emphatic beat or much of anything else that smacked of a "white" influence. He even seems to take issue with the whole notion of choreography in live performances.

    One thing I especially find somewhat condescending in the Drifters book is how he seems to feel that there is something phony about groups and songwriters who he felt were in it strictly for the money. Millar, to me, strikes a sort of attitude that if you're not writing songs or singing strictly because of the love of music, you're not genuine. But who on this earth could ever afford to be a songwriter or performer just for the love of music? Ya gotta make a living.
    Hey can we get Millar's books for free? He is an author for the pure love of being a writer, right ?

  31. Quote Originally Posted by Boogiedown View Post
    Hey can we get Millar's books for free? He is an author for the pure love of being a writer, right ?
    Oh what a wonderfully wicked (and pointed) sense of humor you've got. I love it!

  32. #32
    I feel I must put the record straight here. Bill Millar has been a personal friend of mine for some 30 years now and I can quite categorically state that his book on the Drifters was a labour of love. In fact I doubt that anyone would expect to make money from such a book, particularly in 1971 when the group were well past their peak popularity. He is not a writer by profession and his main interest is the music of the 50s particularly rock & roll, blues, doo wop and rockabilly. He also likes early soul including early Motown and I know he purchased the first 2 volumes of the Complete Motown Singles. Although his tastes did not extend to the more commercial sounds that later came from Motown I know he certainly would not have begrudged artists making money from such music.
    Although suffering from ill health over the last few years he has continued to provide articles for specialist magazines and some Bear Family issues. He has an extensive knowledge of music and I have always found him willing to share this knowledge with others. His book on the Drifters was somewhat groundbreaking when it came out as little had been published on group sounds before then and probably none at all in the UK. It is still a good read.

  33. Quote Originally Posted by Peter G View Post
    I feel I must put the record straight here. Bill Millar has been a personal friend of mine for some 30 years now and I can quite categorically state that his book on the Drifters was a labour of love. In fact I doubt that anyone would expect to make money from such a book, particularly in 1971 when the group were well past their peak popularity. He is not a writer by profession and his main interest is the music of the 50s particularly rock & roll, blues, doo wop and rockabilly. He also likes early soul including early Motown and I know he purchased the first 2 volumes of the Complete Motown Singles. Although his tastes did not extend to the more commercial sounds that later came from Motown I know he certainly would not have begrudged artists making money from such music.
    Although suffering from ill health over the last few years he has continued to provide articles for specialist magazines and some Bear Family issues. He has an extensive knowledge of music and I have always found him willing to share this knowledge with others. His book on the Drifters was somewhat groundbreaking when it came out as little had been published on group sounds before then and probably none at all in the UK. It is still a good read.
    Truly, the internet makes a small world even smaller. I never would have dreamed all those years ago that I would find some connection to the author of this book! Peter, your friend, for not being a writer by profession, sure made an impact on me as being an exceptional writer. I may have quibbled with a point of view here or there but apparently, Mr. Millar struck something deep because some 40-odd years later, I still have and read his book. I've bought many books on music and many garner one or two reads and then they sit on a shelf. In some cases, they get thrown out unless I find something in them that keeps me coming back to read agin and again.

    This whole thread was precisely because of things I've read in Mr. Millar's book on The Drifters. I honestly had the impression, though, that he didn't have a very high opinion of Motown's production style so your post is so exciting because you're giving some perspective here I didn't have before. I actually have been doing some online searching and found Mr. Millar has written more than a few reviews of various live performances. I couldn't access the full reviews but what I could read has me even more interested in learning about Mr. Millar. Talk about timing. A great surprise to see your post here. Thank you!

  34. #34
    What a well written post Peter G , you are a good friend! For my part, I regret making comments that might in any way seem to disparage Mr. Millar. I think his was not the work off of which to comment , even jokingly , on a pet peeve of mine , the notion some have that making music more "commercial" (and therefore more profitable) somehow equates "selling out". I would guess most artists would consider gaining as big an audience as possible a desirable goal. So that's that on that.

    I'm delighted to learn that Bill Millar's works, of which I am unfamiliar, were labors of love , and I'm going to keep an eye out for them at my used bookstore haunts. I wish him the best and also I hope he made some decent $$ from his endeavors!!
    Last edited by Boogiedown; 06-05-2020 at 04:53 PM.

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