Tag Archives: Berry Gordy Jr.

Song: “What’s Going On”

 

When Marvin Gaye presented the finished track to Motown, the label refused to release it. Berry Gordy thought it was too jazzy, and that people didn't want to hear socially relevant music. Fortunately for us all, he relented. Uploaded by 45cat.com.

When we listen to the early Motown songs released by Marvin Gaye (Great American Things, April 2, 2009) and his duets with Tammi Terrell, we hear a pop singer at the top of his game. But with the release of “What’s Going On,” we hear something more – an artist who doesn’t follow the popular style, but who leads the way to a new approach.

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Gaye looked at the crucible that was the 60s (which didn’t end until the fall of Saigon) and felt compelled to produce music that addressed the pressing problems of the day. “What’s Going On” is the title song of a concept album that dealt with drug abuse, poverty, the environment, and the Vietnam War. Gaye recorded the song with some of his friends talking, giving it a live, party feel. And he included the distinctive saxophone riff that Eli Fontaine had played while “just goofing around.”

Motown executives, especially Berry Gordy, hated the song and refused to release it. Gaye said he wouldn’t record for Motown again unless Gordy changed his mind. The label eventually relented, and realized that their singer knew what he was doing. “What’s Going On” made it to number 2 in the Billboard Hot 100, and was a number 1 hit on the Soul Singles chart. Rolling Stone ranked it the fourth greatest song of all time.

Music: Motown

The list of performers on the Motown label during the 1960s is a Who's Who of soul and R&B. Uploaded by britannica.com.

I’m a little bit embarrassed that Motown hasn’t been on this list before now. I’ve definitely recognized a good many of those who performed and wrote songs for the label, but it’s way overdue that I honor the company itself. This recognizes the time (until 1972) when Motown was headquartered in Detroit.

Motown's original home is now a museum. Uploaded by freerangetalk.com.

Only Stax Records in Memphis challenged Motown during the 1960s as the premier producer of soul and R&B. Founded by Berry Gordy, Jr., Motown had 110 songs reach the Top 10 on the charts between 1961 and 1971.

As successful as Motown was as a music machine, its cultural impact may be even greater. White audiences of all ages loved the Motown sound and identified with the performers. The black/white distinction diminished as the years went by; there are lots of factors behind that change, but there’s no minimizing the Motown effect.

The roster of Motown artists is a Who’s Who of soul music.Here are the Motown performers who took at least one song to Number 1:

The Marvelettes • Stevie Wonder • Mary Wells • The Supremes • The Temptations • Four Tops • Marvin Gaye • The Jackson 5 • Edwin Starr • Diana Ross • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

And here are some of the other Motown stars:

Martha and the Vandellas • Junior Walker & The All-Stars • The Spinners • The Isley Brothers • David Ruffin • Jimmy Ruffin • Gladys Knight & The Pips • Rare Earth

Throughout its history, Motown was known as Hitsville, USA. It churned out songs with almost a factory mentality, yet managed to maintain the spark of creativity never quite matched since. Part of the credit went to the songwriters, most notably the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland (Great American Things, November 15, 2009), and part of it went to the producers – including Berry Gordy, Jr. himself.

Singer: Stevie Wonder

What an incredible career. Thirty top 10 songs. Two albums of the year. Oscar for Best Song. Two halls of fame. Pretty good for a blind kid from Saginaw. Uploaded by melbomusic.wordpress.com.

Who has won more Grammy Awards than any other male solo artist? Why, that’s right, it’s Stevie Wonder. It’s amazing that you knew that! What gave it away?

Stevland Morris recently celebrated his 60th birthday. He began recording for Motown at the age of 11. During that 49-year (so far) career, he’s had more than 30 top ten hits (pop/R&B charts), and won 22 Grammys. That’s pretty good for the third child of Calvin Judkins and Lula Mae Hardaway, born blind in Saginaw, Michigan.

He was dubbed “Little Stevie Wonder” by Motown impresario Berry Gordy, Jr. when he signed his first contract at age 11. He had his first hit, “Fingertips, Part 2” (recorded live) the following year. Before he turned 16 he’d co-written a chart smash (“The Tears of a Clown”) with Smokey Robinson, and he was skilled not just at harmonica, but also on piano, organ, and drums.

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Stevie Wonder’s career has featured one hit single after another, one powerful album after another. Two of his albums, Innervisions and Songs in the Key of Life received the Grammy for Best Album of the Year. He’s won an Academy Award for Song of the Year. He is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and he has a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Here are the Stevie Wonder songs that reached the top 10 on the pop chart:

1963: “Fingertips, Part 2” • 1966: “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “Place in the Sun” • 1967: “I Was Made to Love Her” • 1968: “For Once in My Life”, “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day” • 1969: “My Cherie Amour”, “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday” • 1970: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours”, “Heaven Help Us All” • 1971: “If You Really Love Me” • 1972: “Superstition” • 1973: “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, “Higher Ground”, “Living for the City” • 1974: “You Haven’t Done Nothin'”, “Boogie On, Reggae Woman” • 1977: “I Wish”, “Sir Duke” • 1979: “Send One Your Love” • 1980: “Master Blaster” • 1981: “Happy Birthday”, “That Girl” • 1982: “Do I Do”, “Ebony and Ivory” • 1984: “I Just Called to Say I Love You” • 1985 “Part-time Lover” • 1986: “Go Home”