"Music, Money, Sex and Power." That is how, in four unequivocal words, Gerald L. Posner defines Motown, the record label which transformed the landscape of American popular culture. The personage who embodies this definition is Berry Gordy Junior. His story is the story of Motown: that is why he is sometimes called "Mr. Motown." Gordy chose between the ring and the record business : "I then noticed the fighters were about 23 and looked 50 - the band leaders about 50 and looked 23" and launched Motown in 1959 in the city of Detroit with just an $800 family loan. But is the secret to Motown's success just "music, money, sex and power?" Was Berry Gordy only interested in wealth and women? And is he the only figure who embodied Motown and turned it into a hit factory? I will briefly, as an introduction, give an overview on the creation of the record label and then focus on the major aspects of Motown in order to understand the keys to its success. I chose this subject because for me Motown is not only a huge American cultural exception by the originality of its strategy but also a revolution in the American mass culture.
[...] I think that a triangle, a pyramid could perfectly sum up three of the major keys to Motown's Success with Berry Gordy at the top of it and with three others important elements subaltern to Gordy. These three elements would be: brilliant song writers - I will take the example of Holland- Dozier-Holland, talented musicians such as the Funk Brothers and finally great singers turned into stars like The Supremes. Berry Gordy Song Writers - Musicians - Singers The pyramid structure is for me the perfect explanation of Motown's strategy: Berry Gordy and the song writers are the architects of the Motown Sound, the musicians and the singers are the artists of it Brilliant Songwriters : The Example of Holland-Dozier-Holland The team of songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland, composed of Lamont Dozier and two brothers Brian Holland and Edward Holland Jr., is one of the best examples of how songwriters are paramount to the Motown Sound. [...]
[...] Gerald Early also highlights in his book the fact that “Gordy was able to manipulate brilliantly both his black and his white audience by having Motown as vaguely a “race company” satisfy certain nationalistic yearnings for blacks while presenting it as an “assimilationist success story” for whites.” In a way, Berry Gordy sort of did black music for whites and thus changed the usual public of its music. He is the first one who did that and succeeded in this strategy, as 70% of his records were bought by whites. [...]
[...] Therefore, with all these keys to success, one can say that Motown was a story of success and way more than just “music, money, sex and power.” The facts are obviously impressive: in the sixties 110 artists from Motown were top-10! Another extraordinary fact is that on January five songs out of seven on the Top 7 hits were Motown songs. The end of this golden age of Motown came at the end of the sixties when in 1967 Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown after an argument about royalty payment and from 1969 to 1972, the label moved all of its operation to Los Angeles, in California. [...]
[...] This is the “Motown's music formula for success.” The Motown Sound includes particular characteristics such as the use of drums and tambourine, a bass instrumentation and a “call and response” singing style that comes from gospel music. One can say it is the “crossover between soul and blues, between commercial and popular music.” A very good example of that sound could be Dancing in the Street by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. According to Smokey Robinson, this Motown Sound has also a spiritual aspect as he said: “People would listen to it, and they'd say, 'Aha, they use more bass. [...]
[...] Money, that's what he wanted and that's what he got As a final conclusion, if I have always been fond of this record label, this paper has been a real opportunity for me to learn more about it and to discover some amusing details and anecdotes I did not even know. I hope I managed to show my real interest in this subject and how Motown completely changed American popular culture. Best Motown Artists The Four Tops They first performed in 1954 and are still together after 42 years. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee