G1E1 – Origins of the Motown – The Beginning

G1E1 – Origins of the Motown – The Beginning

Welcome pop pickers to an ambitious series of articles covering 6 genres, each with 6 episodes. To give a bit of variation, the next episode of each genre will be published 6 weeks after the previous episode.

This is based on stuff like what I like, there will be various bands and artists to try and cheer you up and kick-start your weekend.  Hopefully for many of you, to bring back some fond memories and get your foot tapping.

This week is the origins of Motown, the beginning.  Berry Gordy Jr. started Motown in January 1959 with a loan from his family. Originally calling his label Tamla Records, Gordy released “Come To Me” by Marv Johnson as his first single. He later changed the label’s name to Motown Records, an allusion to Detroit’s nickname as the “Motor City.”

I give thanks to Wiki of course and for this genre and to Britannica.com

Courtesy of Wiki:

Gordy reinvested the profits from his song writing success into producing. In 1957, he discovered the Miracles (originally known as the Matadors) and began building a portfolio of successful artists. In 1959, with the encouragement of Miracles leader Smokey Robinson, Gordy borrowed $800 from his family to create an R&B record company. Originally, Gordy wanted to name the new label Tammy Records, after the song recorded by Debbie Reynolds. However, that name was taken, and he chose the name Tamla Records. The company began operating on January 12, 1959. “Come to Me” by Marv Johnson was issued as Tamla 101. United Artists Records picked up “Come to Me” for national distribution, as well as Johnson’s more successful follow-up records such as “You Got What It Takes“, co-produced by Gordy, who also received a co-writer credit, though the song was originally written and recorded by guitarist Bobby Parker for Vee-Jay Records a year and a half earlier. Gordy’s next release was the only 45 ever issued on his Rayber label, featuring Wade Jones with an unnamed female backup group. The record did not sell well and is now one of the rarest issues from the Motown stable. Berry’s third release was “Bad Girl” by the Miracles, the first release on the Motown record label. “Bad Girl” was a solid hit in 1959 after Chess Records picked it up. Barrett Strong‘s “Money (That’s What I Want)” initially appeared on Tamla and then charted on Gordy’s sister’s label, Anna Records, in February 1960. It was The Miracles who gave the label its first million-selling hit single, with the 1960 Grammy Hall of Fame smash, “Shop Around” and this song, and its follow up hits,”You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” (another Grammy Hall of Fame-inducted hit), “Mickey’s Monkey“,”What’s So Good About Goodbye“, and “I’ll Try Something New“, made The Miracles the label’s first stars.

The Tamla and Motown labels were then merged into a new company, Motown Record Corporation, incorporated on April 14, 1960. In 1960, Gordy signed an unknown singer, Mary Wells, who became the fledgling label’s second star, with Smokey Robinson penning her hits “You Beat Me to the Punch“, “Two Lovers“, and “My Guy“. The Miracles’ hit “Shop Around” peaked at No. 1 on the national R&B charts in late 1960 and at No. 2 on the Billboard magazine pop charts on January 16, 1961 (No. 1 pop, Cash Box), which established Motown as an independent company worthy of notice. Later in 1961, the Marvelettes‘ “Please Mr. Postman” made it to the top of both charts.

Gordy’s gift for identifying and bringing together musical talent, along with the careful management of his artists’ public image, made Motown a major national and then international success. Over the next decade, he signed such artists as the SupremesMarvin Gayethe TemptationsJimmy Ruffinthe Contours, the Four TopsGladys Knight & the Pipsthe Commodoresthe VelvelettesMartha and the VandellasStevie Wonder and the Jackson 5. Though he also signed some white acts to the label (Rare Earth, Rustix, via the Rare Earth label), he mainly promoted African American artists but carefully controlled their public image, dress, manners and choreography for across-the-board appeal.

The Tunes:

Marv JohnsonCome to Me – The very first Motown artist which launched the Motown sound back in 1959.  You may not recognise the song, probably not Marvellous Marv either, but you will know that sound!

Marv JohnsonYou Got What It Takes – I think you will know this one.

Gordy remained on the fringes of the popular music business, making very little money, until he discovered William (“Smokey”) Robinson, a Detroit high schooler with a soothing falsetto and an ear for sweet lyrics.

Smokey Robinson and The Miracles.  I think the first doo-wop song.  The Miracles – “Bad Girl” (1959).  Again, you may not know the song, but you will likely know of Smokey, and certainly the sound.

Smokey Robinson and The MiraclesShop Around (Ready Steady Go – 1965).  For those of a certain age, you will remember Ready Steady Go as the ITV equivalent of ToTP.  What a great tune this is.

My featured song is also Smokey Robinson and the Miracles with You really got a hold on me, from 1964.

Mary Wells – was the second start that Berry Gordon made, with this hit You Beat Me to the Punch.  Written by Smokey.

Mary WellsTwo Lovers – Not heard this for years, so I thought it worth a reminder.  Even if you do not know it, you will recognise the sound.  Again, another written by Smokey.

Here is what I think is the best-known song from her:  Mary WellsMy Guy (live 1982) – super song.

Singalong, enjoy and be happy!

Links to Origins Series:

Genre 1 Episode 1 – Motown – The Beginning

Featured image: “robinson, smokey- pure smokey” by cdrummbks is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

© Phil the ex test manager 2023