TAMLA MOTOWN IS 60
jeanniejeanniejeannie.co.uk BLOG 15th January 2019
Motown Records is owned by Universal Music Group. It was originally founded by Berry Gordy Jr. as Tamla Records on January 12, 1959, and was incorporated as Motown Record Corporation on April 14, 1960. Its name, a portmanteau of motor and town, has become a nickname for Detroit, where the label was originally headquartered.
Motown played an important role in the racial integration of popular music as an African American-owned label that achieved significant crossover success. In the 1960s, Motown and its subsidiary labels (including Tamla Motown, the brand used outside the US) were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as the Motown Sound, a style of soul music with a distinct pop influence. During the 1960s, Motown achieved spectacular success for a small label: 79 records in the top-ten of the Billboard Hot 100 between 1960 and 1969.
Berry Gordy got his start as a songwriter for local Detroit acts such as Jackie Wilson and the Matadors. Wilson’s single “Lonely Teardrops”, written by Gordy, became a huge success, but Gordy did not feel he made as much money as he deserved from this and other singles he wrote for Wilson. He realized that the more lucrative end of the business was in producing records and owning the publishing.
In 1959, Billy Davis and Berry Gordy’s sisters Gwen and Anna started Anna Records. Davis and Gwen Gordy wanted Berry to be the company president, but Berry wanted to strike out on his own. On January 12, 1959, he started Tamla Records, with an $800 loan from his family and royalties earned writing for Jackie Wilson. Gordy originally wanted to name the label Tammy Records, after the hit song popularized by Debbie Reynolds from the 1957 film Tammy and the Bachelor, in which Reynolds also starred. When he found the name was already in use, Berry decided on Tamla instead. Tamla’s first release, in the Detroit area, was Marv Johnson’s “Come to Me” in 1959 (released nationally on United Artists). Its first hit was Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want)” (1959), which made it to number 2 on the Billboard R&B charts (released nationally on Anna Records).
Gordy’s first signed act was the Matadors, who immediately changed their name to the Miracles in order to avoid confusion with the Matadors who recorded for Sue. Their first release, “Got a Job”, was an answer record to the Silhouettes’ “Get a Job” (issued on George Goldner’s End Records). The Miracles’ first, minor hit was their fourth single, 1959’s “Bad Girl”, released in Detroit as the debut record on the Motown imprint, and nationally on the Chess label. (Most early Motown singles were released through other labels, such as End, Fury, Gone and Chess.)
Miracles lead singer William ”Smokey” Robinson became the vice president of the company (and later named his daughter “Tamla” and his son “Berry”). Several of Gordy’s family members, including his father Berry Sr., brothers Robert and George, and sister Esther, were given key roles in the company. By the middle of the decade, Gwen and Anna Gordy had joined the label in administrative positions as well. Gordy’s partner at the time (and wife from 1960-64), Raynoma Liles, also played a key role in the early days of Motown, leading the company’s first session group, The Rayber Voices, and overseeing the label’s publishing arm, Jobete.
Also in 1959, Gordy purchased the property that would become Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. studio. The photography studio located in the back of the property was modified into a small recording studio, and the Gordys moved into the second-floor living quarters. Within seven years, Motown would occupy seven additional neighboring houses:
By the end of 1966 Motown had hired over 450 employees and had a gross income of $20 million.
Early Tamla/Motown artists included Mable John, Eddie Holland and Mary Wells. “Shop Around”, the Miracles’ first number 1 R&B hit, peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. It was Tamla’s first million-selling record. On April 14, 1960, Motown and Tamla Records merged into a new company called Motown Record Corporation. A year later, the Marvelettes scored Tamla’s first US number-one pop hit, “Please Mr. Postman”. By the mid-1960s, the company, with the help of songwriters and producers such as Robinson, A&R chief William ”Mickey” Stevenson, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Norman Whitfield, had become a major force in the music industry.
From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 top 10 hits. Top artists on the Motown label during that period included the Supremes (initially including Diana Ross), the Four Tops, and the Jackson 5, while Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Marvelettes, and the Miracles had hits on the Tamla label. The company operated several labels in addition to the Tamla and Motown imprints.
Under the slogan “The Sound of Young America”, Motown’s acts were enjoying widespread popularity among black and white audiences alike.
Smokey Robinson said of Motown’s cultural impact:
“Into the 1960s, I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music, we were making history. But I did recognize the impact because acts were going all over the world at that time. I recognized the bridges that we crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized that because I lived it. I would come to the South in the early days of Motown and the audiences would be segregated. Then they started to get the Motown music and we would go back and the audiences were integrated and the kids were dancing together and holding hands.”
In 1967 Berry Gordy purchased what is now known as Motown Mansion in Detroit’s Boston-Edison Historic District as his home, leaving his previous home to his sister Anna and then husband Marvin Gaye (where photos for the cover of his album What’s Going On were taken). In 1968, Gordy purchased the Donovan building on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Interstate 75, and moved Motown’s Detroit offices there (the Donovan building was demolished in January 2006 to provide parking spaces for Super Bowl XL). In the same year Gordy purchased Golden World Records, and its recording studio became “Studio B” to Hitsville’s “Studio A”.
In the United Kingdom, Motown’s records were released on various labels: at first London (only the Miracles’ “Shop Around”/”Who’s Lovin’ You” and “Ain’t It Baby”), then Fontana (“Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes was one of four) and then Oriole American (“Fingertips” by Little Stevie Wonder was one of many). In 1963, Motown signed with EMI’s Stateside label (“Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes and “My Guy” by Mary Wells were Motown’s first British top-20 hits). Eventually EMI created the Tamla Motown label (“Stop! In the Name of Love” by the Supremes was the first Tamla Motown release in March 1965).
INSPIRATIONAL QUOTE FOR THE DAY
Everyone lives by selling something. – Anon.
Happiness is…relaxing and listening to 101 Motown Anthems Box set
GRANDAD’S ONE LINER JOKE OF THE DAY
A cabbie is a fare-minded person.
Love is…the kiss that started off New Year
TRACK OF THE DAY
Money (That’s What I Want) by Barrett Strong
Highest Chart Position: No. Did not chart in the UK but Made No.23 in June 1960 on the US Billboard Hot 100
The song was originally recorded by Barrett Strong and released on Tamla in August 1959. Anna Records was operated by Gwen Gordy, Anna Gordy and Roquel “Billy” Davis. Gwen and Anna’s brother Berry Gordy had just established his Tamla label (soon Motown would follow) and licensed the song to the Anna label in 1960, which was distributed nationwide by Chicago-based Chess Records in order to meet demand; the Tamla record was a resounding success in the Midwest. The song has Strong curtly insisting that money is what he needs, more than anything else. In the US, the single became Motown’s first hit in June 1960, making it to number 2 on the Hot R&B Sides chart and number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was listed as number 288 on Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. Greil Marcus has pointed out that “Money” was the only song that brought Strong’s name near the top of the national music charts, “but that one time has kept him on the radio all his life.”
Piano and lead vocals were supplied by Barrett. Guitar on the track was played by Eugene Grew.
Virtually all of the records issued were 45’s; the 10-inch 78 format, issued by Anna, is described as “extremely rare”.
WHAT DAY IS IT?
Tuesday 15th January 2019
Strawberry Ice Cream Day
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