Now, it's safe to say that near enough everyone from every age range, background or social standing can name a hit Motown record. Motown brought R&B, Soul and eventually Disco to the masses. Songs that were powerful in sound, simple in melody and touching lyricism. With this post what I aim to do is shed some light onto some of my favourite Motown tracks that may not have received as much notoriety or airplay but are damn good! Fortunately for those of you who don't collect records, there are tons of ways to delve deeper into Motown's rich collection of rarities, with the 'Cellarful of Motown' volumes readily available from Amazon on CD or MP3.
I'll start off with one of my favourite female vocalists of the 60s, Mary Wells.. I couldn't possibly talk about Motown without mentioning her, she was the labels first big star and not only produced such hits as 'My Guy' and 'You Beat Me To The Punch' but she also played a huge role in diminishing the racial segregation in the music world by getting several of her tracks played on radio. Mary had a real edge with her lyricism, bitter sweet heartbreak songs with haunting melody to back it up, there isn't one of her songs that a woman can't relate to in one way or another. Her honesty and unadulterated vulnerability makes her one of my absolute favourite Motown artists.
The haunting piano intro the desperation in her voice and those lyrics keep this song on my record player over and over.
Mary's brutal honesty in this track echos the work later produced by Millie Jackson, love her softly sung melancholia.
Next up, Over to the boys.. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles. Just like Mary Wells, they were prolific in setting Motown up for success, they happened to produce Motown with their first ever million-selling record "Shop Around". They also crossed over into many genres, starting off with Doo Wop, R&B and then Soul. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles went on to become one of the most successful groups of all time. It's no surprise that their predecessors The Temptations looked to them for songwriting help, also The Beatles, The Stones and Bob Dylan have all cited them as their biggest inspiration. When you hear those harmonies, Smokey's unadulterated candid lyricism of a man who's loved and lost and that feel-good melody.. it's easy to see why they got so huge. I'm sure every man can relate.
The thing I love about this track, is the beat is totally feel-good dancefloor filler and yet the lyrics and song title are indicative of something else..
Some of Smokey's most powerful vocals are in this song in my opinion, John Lennon stated this track directly influenced his songwriting.
By far the most stylish of the Motown artists- The Temptations. As famed for their on-stage performances and synchronised dancing as they are for their iconic Motown tracks "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and "My Girl". The Temptations sung and wrote a host of amazing songs that haven't received the notoriety or airplay I believe they deserved. With some guidance from The Miracles and the introduction of bad boy frontman David Ruffin, The Temptations became a regular fixture on the R&B charts. There is something inexplicably cool about The Temptations and despite their pleading lyricism, they still carry an air of confidence and swagger on and off stage that is rare to find these days.
One of their earliest tracks, amazing Doo Wop, impossible to dislike.
My favourite performance from The Temptations, Ruffin is giving it loads on the floor and damn.. those tailored suits with the white shoes. How can you not.
My Motown related posting will continue next week for your listening/reading pleasure.. with more of the women; The Marvelettes, The Supremes, The Velvelettes, Martha Reeves etc