Flight of Fancy – imagine that in the late 1800s all promising British authors were funneled into a single publishing house – Londontown – because no one else would take a chance on Brits. Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Hardy, Conan Doyle, Stevenson, Kipling, Stoker, Wells, Verne, Wilde. And Londontown pumped out bestsellers at a pace theretofore unequaled because it ignored the prejudice against Brits, focused on the talent, and people LOVED it.
Fast-forward to the 1960s–90s and the real-world, real-company that created the real-funnel of incredible black talent into their studios – Motown. Londontown didn’t happen because it wasn’t necessary – Motown did happen because it was necessary – and, man, was it good at focusing on the talent.
Just like the Brit authors, it’s pretty much impossible to “rate” Motown artists – so for me at least it all comes down to memories & the songs that pop to mind right this minute.
‘My Girl” by the Temptations will always be #1 on my Motown list. Memory: junior year at college, 8 am Sunday morning before Temptations afternoon concert, all alone standing behind David Ruffin to buy a newspaper at the quad. Tall, slim, shades and wearing a leather jacket with fringe – absolutely the coolest guy I’ve ever seen. And then, later that afternoon he stepped forward & sang this.
Smokey Robinson is the quintessential Motown artist, i.e., the best – song writer, producer, performer – the perfect representative. His songs cut through macho bravado and address feelings that guys actually have but never express – tough terrain. I think the best of his very long list of great tunes is “Just To See Her”.
One of the first & most unforgettable Motown songs from my youth was a boy-girl duet that continues to make the rotation on pop stations to this day. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999, is classic Motown R&B and is certainly on the short list of most important records produced by the label. Plus, of course, it’s a really cool song.
Thanks, Motown, for creating such a great platform for the dozens of artists you sponsored through the years – unbelievable variety of talent, unforgettable list of songs.