Page last updated at 09:08 GMT, Friday, 9 January 2009

A to Z of Motown Records

Stevie Wonder

It launched the careers of some of the most influential black music artists of the 20th century. Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Jackson 5 and Smokey Robinson all came through the ranks of Motown, founded 50 years ago in Detroit. Here is an A to Z of Motown:

Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy in 1981
Motown Records founder Berry Gordy said his dream was for a hit factory "shaped by principles I learned on the Lincoln-Mercury assembly line" in Detroit where he worked as a car upholstery trimmer for $85 a week.

Diana Ross

Baby Love is the 1964 number one hit recorded by The Supremes for Motown. With lead vocals by Diana Ross, it is still one of the most popular songs of the late 20th Century and The Supremes' most successful single. It was ranked 324 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.


Marv Johnson's song Come To Me was the label's first release, issued as Tamla 101 before being picked up by major label United Artists and hitting number 30 on the US Billboard Hot 100.


Motown, a blend of the words "motor" and "town", is also a nickname for Detroit - the label's original base and the historic home of the US car industry. Its original "Hitsville USA" headquarters in the city - which opened in January 1960 - housed the label's recording studio and offices.


Another Motown imprint, albeit a very short-lived one, the label was co-owned by Berry Gordy and Sammy Davis Jr. Just one single, In My Own Lifetime, sung by Sammy, was released in March 1971.


The Funk Brothers were the musicians who provided the backing on most Motown records between 1959 and 1972, when Gordy moved the label's operations to Los Angeles. It is claimed that by that time, they had played on more number one hits than Elvis, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones and The Beatles combined.

Berry Gordy in 2008

As a fledgling songwriter, Gordy had his first hit with Reet Petite, sung by Jackie Wilson, in 1957. It reached number 62 in the US and number six in the UK. He quit his car factory job in the same year and went on to launch the independent Tamla Record Company on 12 January 1959, using a family loan of $800.


Between 1963 and 1967, Brian Holland, brother Edward and Lamont Dozier played a huge role in moulding the Motown sound, writing and producing dozens of hit records. They included five consecutive US number ones for The Supremes.

Marvin Gaye

The song - composed by Motown writers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong with backing played by the Funk Brothers - was a number one for Marvin Gaye in the US and the UK in 1968 and became Motown's biggest-selling record.

The Jackson 5
Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael auditioned for Motown in 1968 after previously recording with Indiana label Steeltown. Their first Motown single, 1969's I Want You Back, became the label's fastest-selling record.

Gladys Knight

Gladys Knight and the Pips joined the Motown roster in 1966 and notched up several hit singles, including I Heard It Through the Grapevine, more famously recorded by Marvin Gaye. Early in their career they supported Diana Ross and The Supremes. They won a Grammy for Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye) in 1972.

Motown Records was expanded in 1972 when the whole operation was relocated to Los Angeles, partly to launch a movie division which released films including Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings The Blues, starring Diana Ross.


The Motown Sound is characterised by a piston-like 4/4 drum beat, often alongside tambourine, together with melodic basslines, funky guitars, big brass lines and catchy vocal hooks.


The Motown sound is credited as the inspiration for this music, dance and fashion movement which spread from the dancehalls of northern England in the mid-1960s. It has been claimed the earliest recording that can be considered to be the "true" northern soul sound is I Can't Help Myself by The Four Tops - a group who helped define Motown.


The Isley Brothers spent three years on Motown from 1965, and This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You), was their biggest hit during their spell there, reaching number 12 in 1966. They were unable to come up with a follow-up and were released from their contract, only to find they had built up a healthy UK following thanks to three top 40 hits. A British tour inspired them to come back with a new sound on a new label.


The Marvelettes' Please Mister Postman was Motown's first US number one. Released in August 1961, it took 14 weeks to reach the top of the chart. It was later covered by the Beatles and was taken back to the US top spot by The Carpenters in 1974. Fronted by Gladys Horton and Wanda Rogers, it was the Marvelettes' biggest hit. The group went into decline after they turned down the chance to record Holland/ Dozier/ Holland's Where Did Our Love Go? - later offered to the Supremes.


A founding member of hip-hop legends A Tribe Called Quest, rapper Q-Tip signed a solo deal with Motown/Universal in 2007. His latest album, The Renaissance, was released by the label in November 2008.

Smokey Robinson

His name is second only to Berry Gordy as being synonymous with the label. Smokey Robinson's countless hits, which include You've Really Got a Hold on Me, The Tracks of My Tears and the international number one, The Tears of a Clown, saw him nicknamed "King of Motown".

The Supremes

Originally founded as a four-piece but truly hitting their stride as a trio fronted by Diana Ross. notching up hit after hit in the mid-1960s. Where Did Our Love Go? gave them their first US number one and was followed up by another four consecutive US number-ones including Baby Love and Stop! In the Name of Love. Ross went solo in 1970, was replaced by Jean Terrell. After further hits including Stoned Love and Nathan Jones, the group disbanded in 1977.


Tamla Records was formed in 1959. A year later, the Motown Record Corporation was formed which incorporated both Tamla and a new sister imprint, Motown Records. There have been a number of smaller subsidiaries of Motown over the years.


Motown ceased to be an independent record label in 1988 when Gordy sold the company to MCA which, in turn, sold it on to PolyGram in 1993. It is now owned by the Universal Music Group and is based in New York.


Signed to Motown in 1962 and to its imprint VIP in 1964, the all-girl group peaked at number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-1964 with Needle In A Haystack. They never released a full album but recorded the track He Was Really Sayin' Somethin, which later became a top five hit for UK girl group Bananarama in 1982.

Stevie Wonder

"Little Stevie Wonder" signed to Motown in 1961 and has been with the label ever since. He came into his own in the 1970s recording classic albums such as Talking Book and Songs in the Key of Life. His 1984 song I Just Called To Say I Love You is Motown's biggest-selling single.


It's The Same Old Song, by the Four Tops - a number five US and number 10 UK hit in 1965 - opens with a driving riff played on bass guitar and xylophone. According to singer Abdul "Duke" Fakir, the Holland/Dozier/Holland song reverses the chord changes of I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) - The Four Tops' previous hit record.


Elizabeth T Wyce Bingham, 22, is one of Motown's current crop of recording artists. The godchild of R&B legend Chaka Khan, her debut album, The First Seed, was released in the UK in 2006 but failed to chart. She has since provided vocals for rappers Kanye West and The Game.


Zhane - aka Renee Neufville and Jean Norris - released their biggest hit single, Hey Mr DJ, in 1993. Reaching number six in the US chart, it brought the girls to the attention of Motown who signed them in 1994. Their debut album, Pronounced Jah-Nay, produced two further top 40 hits.

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