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.
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.