In popular music circles, certain words and phrases get thrown around with wilful abandon to the point that they become virtually meaningless. Classic, legendary, era-defining are amongst those that are applied to the next new thing, only for it to disappear into obscurity and be overtaken by the next week’s shiny new thing.
But in the context of the songs contained in this particular song book, I don’t think those words can be over-used. Founded in Detroit in 1959 by Berry Gordon Jr, Motown records swept all before it in the 1960s and 1970s, a real-life hit machine that oversaw every facet of the records and artists that made up it’s awe-inspiring roster. With it’s in-house songwriting teams (with the trio of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland the most prolific), it’s crack band that backed most of the recordings (The Funk Brothers), and the carefully cultivated aspirational image that each of its artists presented, Motown established a a particular brand of soul music that has been much imitated but rarely bettered.
Looking at the artists that Motown launched into the world you see a jaw-droppingly amazing set of legends – Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, The Isley Brothers, The Jacksons, Gladys Knight, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Jimmy Ruffin, Edwin Starr, The Temptations, Mary Wells – the list is almost endless.
And then are the songs. True classic pop singles (despite a few notable exceptions, it was singles where Motown excelled) that – 60 years on – still sound as fresh and invigorating as they day they were minted in Hitsville USA. These are songs that still fill the dance floors wherever they are played, that are still covered by artists of all shapes and sizes, and that are a genuine high-water mark in popular culture. These are songs that have resonate down through the years, touching on matters of the heart that are both universal and enduring. And all set to insanely catching melodies and riffs, and against a musical backdrop that you just couldn’t sit down to.
Many have tried to imitate the formula, but none have really captured the long-lasting magic that is at the heart of Motown, it’s songs and it’s artists. There will never be anything like it again. But fortunately for us, the songs will live on forever. And so here are 24 of the best. Taken from the classic Motown period (1959-71) these songs represent some of the very best of what Motown was offering to the world. These are songs to be sung with gusto, with joy, and with a smile on the face. Enjoy!
Songs included in this songbook : Money (That’s What I Want) by Barret Strong / Please Mr Postman by The Marvelettes / My Guy by Mary Wells / Where Did Our Love Go by The Supremes / Dancing In The Streets by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas / Baby Love by The Supremes / How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) by Marvin Gaye / He Was Really Sayin’ Something by The Velvelettes / Nowhere To Run by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas / I Can’t Help Myself by The Four Tops / The Tracks Of My Years by The Miracles / It’s The Same Old Song by The Four Tops / This Old Heart Of Mine by The Isley Brothers / What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted by Jimmy Ruffin / You Can’t Hurry Love by The Supremes / Reach Out I’ll Be There by The Four Tops / You Keep Me Hanging On by The Supremes / It Takes Two by Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston / Jimmy Mack by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas / I Second That Emotion by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles / I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Marvin Gaye / Get Ready by The Temptations / The Tears Of A Clown by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles / Nathan Jones by The Supremes