Monday, January 05, 2009

50 years of Motown

Tamla Motown celebrates its fiftieth anniversary next Monday. Berry Gordy founded the Tamla label on January 12, 1959, although it seems the Anna label - founded by his sisters Gwen and Anna with Billy Davis - was already in existence. In fact Gordy had already found success first with Jackie Wilson and later had major hits with Marv Johnson, whose records were distributed by United Artists. The first major hit for the new organisation was in fact on the Anna label and was Barrett Strong's Money, which reached number 2 in the US R&B charts in 1959.

In the UK Money and the first two Miracles 45s were released on London, but subsequently releases came out on Fontana, Oriole and Stateside before Tamla Motown was rewarded with its own label in 1965.

These were the glory years for Tamla Motown. I loved the early records by Marv Johnson, Barrett Strong, the Miracles, the Marvelettes and Mary Wells unaware that there was a connection between them. They were just great singles and they stood out, despite getting little airplay and failing to make the charts. Shop Around reached number one in my personal top ten in early 1961, Miracles follow ups also reached high positions and Marv Johnson was one of my top scoring artists in 1960. It wasn't long before the Marvelettes, Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye made my top ten, along with early singles by Little Stevie Wonder, the Contours, Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops.

Sadly by 1966 the Motown sound was beginning to get formulaic, yet this marked the beginning of Motown's most successful phase. Quality records continued to be produced on occasions however well into the seventies before the move from Detroit to the West Coast and eventual decline and takeover took hold.

It was Stax which produced the most exciting soul records of the sixties, but no one can deny that Motown led the way in selling black music to the white masses. Fify years on, the Motown legacy is immense and Berry Gordy's contribution to popular music is unmatched.

Pictured are the original US 45 of Money and examples of three early Tamla Motown 45s issued on a variety of UK labels.


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