Gladys Knight (b. 28 May 1944, Atlanta, Georgia, USA), her brother Merald "Bubba" (b. 4 September 1942, Atlanta, Georgia, USA), sister Brenda and cousins Elenor Guest and William Guest (b. 2 June 1941, Atlanta, Georgia, USA) formed their first vocal group in their native Atlanta in 1952. Calling themselves the Pips, the youngsters sang supper-club material in the week, and gospel music on Sundays.
They first recorded for Brunswick Records in 1958, with another cousin of the Knights, Edward Patten (b. 2 August 1939), and Langston George making changes to the group line-up the following year when Brenda and Elenor left to get married. Three years elapsed before their next sessions, which produced a version of Johnny Otis' "Every Beat Of My Heart" for the small Huntom label. This song, which highlighted Knight's bluesy, compelling vocal style, was leased to Vee Jay Records when it began attracting national attention, and went on to top the US R&B charts.
By this time, the group, now credited as Gladys Knight And The Pips, had signed a long-term contract with Fury Records, where they issued a re-recording of "Every Beat Of My Heart" which competed for sales with the original release. Subsequent singles such as "Letter Full Of Tears" and "Operator" sealed the group's R&B credentials, but a switch to the Maxx label in 1964 - where they worked with producer Van McCoy - brought their run of successes to a halt. Langston George retired from the group in the early 60s, leaving the line-up that survived into the 80s.
In 1966, Gladys Knight and the Pips were signed to Motown Records' Soul subsidiary, where they were teamed up with producer/songwriter Norman Whitfield. Knight's tough vocals left them slightly out of the Motown mainstream, and throughout their stay with the label the group were regarded as a second-string act. In 1967, they had a major hit single with the original release of "I Heard It Through The Grapevine", an uncompromisingly tough performance of a song that became a Motown standard in the hands of its author Marvin Gaye in 1969. "The Nitty Gritty" (1968) and "Friendship Train" (1969) proved equally successful, while the poignant "If I Were Your Woman" was one of the label's biggest-selling releases of 1970.
In the early 70s, the group slowly moved away from their original blues-influenced sound towards a more middle-of-the-road harmony blend. Their new approach brought them success in 1972 with "Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye)". Later that year, Knight and The Pips elected to leave Motown for Buddah Records, unhappy at the label's shift of operations from Detroit to Hollywood. At Buddah, the group found immediate success with the US chart-topper "Midnight Train To Georgia", an arresting soul ballad, while major hits such as "I've Got To Use My Imagination" and "The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me" mined a similar vein.
In 1974, they performed Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack songs for the film Claudine; the following year, the title track of I Feel A Song gave them another soul number 1. Their smoother approach was epitomized by the medley of "The Way We Were/Try To Remember" which was the centrepiece of Second Anniversary in 1975 - the same year that saw Gladys and the group host their own US television series. Gladys made her acting debut in Pipedream in 1976, for which the group recorded a soundtrack album.
Gaye was named after his father, a minister in the Apostolic Church. The spiritual influence of his early years played a formative role in his musical career, particularly from the 70s onwards, when his songwriting shifted back and forth between secular and religious topics. He abandoned a place in his father's church choir to team up with Don Covay and Billy Stewart in the R&B vocal group the Rainbows. In 1957, he joined the Marquees, who recorded for Chess Records under the guidance of Bo Diddley. The following year the group was taken under the wing of producer and singer Harvey Fuqua, who used them to re-form his doo-wop outfit the Moonglows. When Fuqua moved to Detroit in 1960, Gay went with him: Fuqua soon joined forces with Berry Gordy at Motown Records, and Gay became a session drummer and vocalist for the label.
In 1961, he married Gordy's sister, Anna, and was offered a solo recording contract. Renamed Marvin Gaye, he began his career as a jazz balladeer, but in 1962 he was persuaded to record R&B, and notched up his first hit single with the confident "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow", a Top 10 R&B hit. This record set the style for the next three years, as Gaye enjoyed hits with a series of joyous, dance-flavoured songs that cast him as a smooth, macho, Don Juan figure. He also continued to work behind the scenes at Motown, co-writing Martha And The Vandellas' hit "Dancing In The Street", and playing drums on several early recordings by Little Stevie Wonder. In 1965, Gaye dropped the call-and-response vocal arrangements of his earlier hits and began to record in a more sophisticated style. The striking "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" epitomized his new direction, and it was followed by two successive R&B number 1 hits, "I'll Be Doggone" and "Ain't That
Peculiar". His status as Motown's bestselling male vocalist left him free to pursue more esoteric avenues on his albums, which in 1965 included a tribute to the late Nat "King" Cole and a misguided collection of Broadway standards.
To capitalize on his image as a ladies' man, Motown teamed Gaye with their leading female vocalist, Mary Wells, for some romantic duets. When Wells left Motown in 1964, Gaye recorded with Kim Weston until 1967, when she was succeeded by Tammi Terrell. The Gaye/Terrell partnership represented the apogee of the soul duet, as their voices blended sensually on a string of hits written specifically for the duo by Ashford And Simpson. Terrell developed a brain tumour in 1968, and collapsed onstage in Gaye's arms. Records continued to be issued under the duo's name, although Simpson allegedly took Terrell's place on some recordings. Through the mid-60s, Gaye allowed his duet recordings to take precedence over his solo work, but in 1968 he issued the epochal "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (written by Whitfield/Strong), a song originally released on Motown by Gladys Knight And The Pips, although Gaye's version had actually been recorded first. With its tense,
ominous rhythm arrangement, and Gaye's typically fluent and emotional vocal, the record represented a landmark in Motown's history - not least because it became the label's biggest-selling record to date. Gaye followed up with another number 1 R&B hit, "Too Busy Thinking 'Bout My Baby", but his career was derailed by the insidious illness and eventual death of Terrell in March 1970.
Devastated by the loss of his close friend and partner, Gaye spent most of 1970 in seclusion. The following year, he emerged with a set of recordings that Motown at first refused to release, but which eventually formed his most successful solo album. On "What's Going On", a number 1 hit in 1971, and its two chart-topping follow-ups, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and "Inner City Blues", Gaye combined his spiritual beliefs with his increasing concern about poverty, discrimination and political corruption in American society. To match the shift in subject matter, Gaye evolved a new musical style that influenced a generation of black performers. Built on a heavily percussive base, Gaye's arrangements mingled jazz and classical influences into his soul roots, creating a fluid instrumental backdrop for his sensual, almost despairing vocals. The three singles were all contained on What's Going On, a conceptual masterpiece on which every track contributed to the spiritual yearning suggested by its title. After making a sly comment on the 1972 US presidential election campaign with the single "You're The Man", Gaye composed the soundtrack to the "blaxploitation" thriller Trouble Man. His primarily instrumental score highlighted his interest in jazz, while the title song provided him with another hit single.
Jackson has spent almost his entire life as a public performer. He was a founder member of the Jackson Five at the age of four, soon becoming their lead vocalist and frontman. Onstage, he modelled his dance moves and vocal styling on James Brown, and portrayed an absolute self-confidence on stage that belied his shy, private personality. The Jackson Five were signed to Motown Records at the end of 1968; their early releases, including US chart-toppers "I Want You Back", "ABC", "The Love You Save", and "I'll Be There", illustrated his remarkable maturity. Although Michael was too young to have experienced the romantic situations that were the subject of his songs, he performed with total sincerity, showing all the hallmarks of a great soul artist.
When MGM Records launched the Osmonds as rivals to the Jackson Five in 1970, and singled out their lead singer, 13-year-old Donny Osmond, for a solo career, Motown felt duty bound to reply in kind. Michael Jackson's first release as a solo performer was the aching ballad "Got To Be There", a major transatlantic hit. A revival of Bobby Day's rock 'n' roll novelty "Rockin' Robin" reached number 2 on the US chart in 1972, while the sentimental film theme "Ben" topped the chart later in the year. Motown capitalized on Jackson's popularity with a series of hurried albums, which mixed material angled towards the teenage market with a selection of the label's standards.
During the mid-70s, Michael's solo career was put on hold, and he continued to reserve his talents for the group after they were reborn as the Jacksons in 1976. He re-entered the public eye with a starring role in the film musical The Wiz, collaborating on the soundtrack album with Quincy Jones. Their partnership was renewed in 1979 when Jones produced Off The Wall, a startlingly successful collection of contemporary soul material that introduced the world to the adult Michael Jackson. In his new incarnation, Jackson retained the vocal flexibility of old, but added a new element of sophistication and maturity. The album topped the charts in the USA and UK, and contained two US number 1 singles, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" (for which Jackson won a Grammy Award) and "Rock With You". Meanwhile, Motown capitalized on his commercial status by reissuing a recording from the mid-70s, "One Day In Your Life", which duly topped the UK charts in summer 1981.
Jackson continued to tour and record with the Jacksons after this solo success, while media speculation grew about his private life. He was increasingly portrayed as a figure trapped in an eternal childhood, surrounded by toys and pet animals, and insulated from the traumas of the real world. This image was consolidated when he was chosen to narrate an album based on the 1982 fantasy movie ET - The Extra Terrestrial. The record was quickly withdrawn because of legal complications, but still won Jackson another Grammy Award.
In 1982, Thriller, Jackson's second album with Quincy Jones, was released, and went on to become one of the most commercially successful albums of all time. It also produced a run of successful hit singles, each accompanied by a promotional video that widened the scope of the genre.
The Jackson Five
The Jackson Five comprised five brothers, Jackie Jackson (b. Sigmund Esco Jackson, 4 May 1951, Gary, Indiana, USA), Tito Jackson (b. Toriano Adaryll Jackson, 15 October 1953, Gary, Indiana, USA), Jermaine Jackson (b. Jermaine LaJuane Jackson, 11 December 1954, Gary, Indiana, USA), Marlon Jackson (b. 12 March 1957, Gary, Indiana, USA) and Michael Jackson (b. 29 August 1958, Gary, Indiana, USA).
Raised in Gary, Indiana, USA, by their father Joe, a blues guitarist, they began playing local clubs in 1962, with youthful prodigy Michael as lead vocalist. Combining dance routines influenced by the Temptations with music inspired by James Brown, they first recorded for the Indiana-based Steeltown label before auditioning for Motown Records in 1968. Bobby Taylor recommended the group to Motown, although the company gave Diana Ross public credit for their discovery. A team of Motown writers known as the Corporation composed a series of songs for the group's early releases, all accentuating their youthful enthusiasm and vocal interplay. Their debut single for Motown, "I Want You Back", became the fastest-selling record in the company's history in 1969, and three of their next five singles also topped the American chart.
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
Reeves was schooled in both gospel and classical music, but it was vocal group R&B that caught her imagination. She began performing in the late 50s under the name Martha Lavaille, briefly joining the Fascinations and then the Del-Phis. In 1961 she joined the fledgling Motown organization in Detroit, where she served as secretary to William Stevenson in the A&R department. Her other duties included supervising Little Stevie Wonder during office hours, and singing occasional backing vocals on recording sessions. Impressed by the power and flexibility of her voice, Berry Gordy offered her the chance to record for the label. She reassembled the Del-Phis quartet as the Vels for a single in 1962, and later that year she led the group on their debut release under a new name, Martha And The Vandellas.
From 1963 onwards, they became one of Motown's most successful recording outfits, and Reeves' strident vocals were showcased on classic hits such as "Heat Wave", "Dancing In The Street" and "Nowhere To Run". She was given individual credit in front of the group from 1967 onwards, but their career was interrupted the following year when she was taken seriously ill, and had to retire from performing. Fully recovered, Reeves emerged in 1970 with a new line-up of Vandellas.
A founding member of the Miracles at Northern High School, Detroit, in 1955, Robinson became one of the leading figures in the local music scene by the end of the decade. His flexible tenor voice, which swooped easily into falsetto, made him the group's obvious lead vocalist, and by 1957 he was composing his own variations on the R&B hits of the day. That year he met Berry Gordy, who was writing songs for R&B star Jackie Wilson, and looking for local acts to produce. Vastly impressed by Robinson's affable personality and promising writing talent, Gordy took the teenager under his wing. He produced a series of Miracles singles in 1958 and 1959, all of which featured Robinson as composer and lead singer, and leased them to prominent R&B labels. In 1960 he signed the Miracles to his Motown Records stable, and began to groom Robinson as his second-in-command.
In Motown's early days, Robinson was involved in every facet of the company's operations, writing, producing and making his own records, helping in the business of promotion and auditioning many of the scores of young hopefuls who were attracted by Gordy's growing reputation as an entrepreneur. Robinson had begun his career as a producer by overseeing the recording of the Miracles' "Way Over There", and soon afterwards he was charged with developing the talents of Mary Wells and the Supremes. Wells soon became Robinson's most successful protégée: Robinson wrote and produced a sophisticated series of hit singles for her between 1962 and 1964. These records, such as "You Beat Me To The Punch", "Two Lovers" and "My Guy', demonstrated his growing confidence as a writer, able to use paradox and metaphor to transcend the usual banalities of the teenage popular song. A measure of Robinson's influence over Wells" career is the fact that she was unable to
repeat her chart success after she elected to leave Motown, and Robinson, in 1964.
Between 1964 and 1965, Robinson was responsible for the records that established The Temptations reputation, writing lyrical and rhythmic songs of a calibre that few writers in pop music have equalled since. "The Way You Do The Things You Do" set the hit sequence in motion, followed by the classic ballad "My Girl" (later equally popular in the hands of Otis Redding), the dance number "Get Ready", "Since I Lost My Baby" and the remarkable "It's Growing", which boasted a complex lyric hinged around a series of metaphorical images. During the same period, Robinson helped to create two of Marvin Gaye's most enduring early hits, "Ain't That Peculiar" and "I'll Be Doggone". Throughout the 60s, Smokey Robinson combined this production and A&R work with his own career as leader of the Miracles. He married fellow group member Claudette Rogers in 1959, and she provided the inspiration for Miracles hits such as "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" and "Ooh Baby
Baby". During the mid-60s, Robinson was apparently able to turn out high-quality songs to order, working with a variety of collaborators including fellow Miracle Ronnie White, and Motown guitarist Marv Tarplin.
As the decade progressed, Bob Dylan referred to Robinson as "America's greatest living poet"; as if to justify this assertion, Robinson's lyric-writing scaled new heights on complex ballads such as "The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage" and "I Second That Emotion'. From 1967 onwards, Robinson was given individual credit on the Miracles" releases. For the next two years, their commercial fortunes went into a slide, which was righted when their 1965 recording of "The Tracks Of My Tears" became a major hit in Britain in 1969, and the four-year-old "The Tears Of A Clown" achieved similar success on both sides of the Atlantic in 1970. At the end of the decade, Robinson briefly resumed his career as a producer and writer for other acts, collaborating with the Marvelettes on "The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game", and the Four Tops on "Still Water (Love)". Business concerns were occupying an increasing proportion of his time, however, and in 1971 he
announced that he would be leaving the Miracles the following year, to concentrate on his role as Vice-President of the Motown corporation.
A year after the split, Robinson launched his solo career, enjoying a hit single with "Sweet Harmony", an affectionate tribute to his former group, and issuing the excellent Smokey. The album included the epic "Just My Soul Responding', a biting piece of social comment about the USA's treatment of blacks and American Indians. Robinson maintained a regular release schedule through the mid-70s, with one new album arriving every year. Low-key and for the most part lushly produced, they made little impact, although Robinson's songwriting was just as consistent as it had been in the 60s. He continued to break new lyrical ground, striking the banner for non-macho male behaviour on 1974"s "Virgin Man', and giving name to a new style of soft soul on 1975"s A Quiet Storm. Singles such as "Baby That's Backatcha" and "The Agony And The Ecstasy" sold well on the black market, but failed to achieve national airplay in the USA.
Two years later, he gained his first UK number 1 with "Being With You", a touching love song that came close to equalling that achievement in the USA.
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Of all the R&B vocal groups formed in Detroit, Michigan, USA, in the mid-50s, the Miracles proved to be the most successful. They were founded at the city's Northern High School in 1955 by Smokey Robinson (b. William Robinson, 19 February 1940, Detroit, Michigan, USA), Emerson Rogers, Bobby Rogers (b. 19 February 1940, Detroit, Michigan, USA), Ronnie White (b. 5 April 1939, Detroit, Michigan, USA, d. 26 August 1995) and Warren 'Pete' Moore (b. 19 November 1939, Detroit, Michigan, USA). Emerson Rogers left the following year, and was replaced by his sister Claudette, who married Smokey Robinson in 1959. Known initially as the Matadors, the group became the Miracles in 1958, when they made their initial recordings with producer Berry Gordy. He leased their debut, 'Got A Job' (an answer record to the Silhouettes' major hit 'Get A Job'), to End Records, produced a duet by Ron (White) And Bill (Robinson) for Argo, and licensed the classic doo-wop novelty 'Bad
Girl' to Chess Records in 1959.
The following year, Gordy signed the Miracles directly to his fledgling Motown Records label. Recognizing the youthful composing talents of Smokey Robinson, he allowed the group virtual free rein in the studio, and was repaid when they issued 'Way Over There', a substantial local hit, and then 'Shop Around', which broke both the Miracles and Motown to a national audience. The song demonstrated the increasing sophistication of Robinson's writing, which provided an unbroken series of hits for the group over the next few years. Their raw, doo-wop sound was further refined on the Top 10 hit 'You Really Got A Hold On Me' in 1962, a soulful ballad that became a worldwide standard after the Beatles covered it in 1963. Robinson was now in demand by other Motown artists: Gordy used him as a one-man hit factory, to mastermind releases by the Temptations and Mary Wells, and the Miracles' own career suffered slightly as a result.
They continued to enjoy success in a variety of different styles, mixing dancefloor hits such as 'Mickey's Monkey' and 'Going To A Go-Go' with some of Robinson's most durable ballads, such as 'Ooh Baby Baby' and 'The Tracks Of My Tears'. Although Robinson sang lead on almost all the group's recordings, the rest of the group provided a unique harmony blend behind him, while guitarist Marv Tarplin - who co-wrote several of their hits - was incorporated as an unofficial Miracle from the mid-60s onwards. Claudette Robinson stopped touring with the group after 1965, although she was still featured on many of their subsequent releases.
Exhausted by several years of constant work, Robinson scaled down his writing commitments for the group in the mid-60s, when they briefly worked with Holland/Dozier/Holland and other Motown producers. Robinson wrote their most ambitious and enduring songs, however, including 'The Tears Of A Clown' in 1966 (a belated hit in the UK and USA in 1970), 'The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage', and 'I Second That Emotion' in 1967. These tracks epitomized the strengths of Robinson's compositions, with witty, metaphor-filled lyrics tied to aching melody lines and catchy guitar figures, the latter often provided by Tarplin.
Like many of the veteran Motown acts, the Miracles went into a sales slump after 1967 - the year when Robinson was given individual credit on the group's records. Their slide was less noticeable in Britain, where Motown gained a Top 10 hit in 1969 with a reissue of 'The Tracks Of My Tears', which most listeners imagined was a contemporary record. The success of 'The Tears Of A Clown' prompted a revival in fortune after 1970. 'I'm The One You Need' became another reissue hit in Britain the following year, while 'I Don't Blame You At All', one of their strongest releases to date, achieved chart success on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1971, Robinson announced his intention of leaving the Miracles to concentrate on his position as vice-president of Motown Records. His decision belied the title of his final hit with the group, 'We've Come Too Far To End It Now' in 1972, and left the Miracles in the unenviable position of having to replace one of the most distinctive voices in popular music. Their choice was William 'Bill' Griffin (b. 15 August 1950, Detroit, Michigan, USA), who was introduced by Robinson to the group's audiences during a 1972 US tour. The new line-up took time to settle, while Smokey Robinson launched a solo career to great acclaim in 1973. The group responded with Renaissance, which saw them working with Motown luminaries such as Marvin Gaye and Willie Hutch. The following year, they re-established the Miracles as a hit-making force with 'Do It Baby' and 'Don'tcha Love It', dance-orientated singles that appealed strongly to the group's black audience. In 1975, 'Love
Machine' became the Miracles' first US chart-topper, while the concept album City Of Angels was acclaimed as one of Motown's most progressive releases.
Diana Ross and the Supremes
It was more than a record-setting chart sweep that began when "Where Did Our Love Go" made DIANA ROSS AND THE SUPREMES into household names in the summer of 1964. It was really a love affair -- between three women and the world. Along with the charmed circle of Motown singers, writers, producers and players, they re-wrote the book on pop music in the Sixties and Seventies.
"Where Did Our Love Go," written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, established a sound and a group in one giant step, with Diana Ross's bright, insinuating lead, and hypnotic repeating counterpoint from Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard. The Supremes left Detroit in early summer on a Dick Clark tour bus at the bottom of the bill, but with excitement mounting, they returned with their first No. 1 record of five in a row.
Within a year, Diana Ross and the Supremes notched up six No. 1 pop singles, and they would post another six pop chart-toppers by the end of the decade. But the fact of that accomplishment is only one facet of the group's significance. The sound was so refreshing, the look so flawless, and the vibe so compelling that Diana Ross and the Supremes became no less than a defining reference point for America, for admiring musicians and fans worldwide, and for successive generations of female pop artists.
The Motown Sound was a powerful hybrid. Holland-Dozier-Holland and the legendary Motown rhythm players used blues, jazz, R&B, classical and pop devices to craft a run of Supremes hits that was danceable, melodic and diverse; funky and classy, all at once. When British pop-rock invaded the world and obsoleted most American teen acts, Motown's mix of ghetto soul and pop polish rocketed Detroit's talented artists onto center stage. The Supremes' "Baby Love" was the only record by an American group to top the British charts in 1964. Motown's ingenious new fusion was the new sound that no one could duplicate -- and everybody in pop and R&B tried.
Every variation on the Supremes theme was recognizably theirs, yet fresh and individual. If "Baby Love," the second Supremes No. 1, was crafted in a classic follow-up strategy, the sophisticated yet swinging "I Hear a Symphony" took the formula to the sparkling musical and emotional conclusion. In the other three No. 1's of that magic first year, "Come See About Me," "Stop! in the Name of Love," and "Back in My Arms Again," the piston-like four-four Motown beat evolved into a classic trademark sound. But each song's fierce arsenal of hooks -- in arrangement, story line, and even choreography -- made each of them a real re-invention, and an unforgettable episode in a continuing love story.
With six No. 1 records in a little over a year, Diana Ross and the Supremes all but owned the word "baby" -- and they put a unmistakable claim on the word "classic," too. The dominance of the group in the pop arena reminded the entire world how much of popular culture was rooted in America's black community. Their music was helping to redefine America as a multi-cultural society, in the eyes of the world, and in the nation's own eyes. Motown's hard work ethic, upward mobility and inclusive mentality exemplified the American dream for many. So pervasive was the Motown drive that founder Berry Gordy Jr. once issued a company memo directing that "We will release nothing less than Top Ten product on any artist. And because the Supremes' world-wide acceptance is greater than the other artists, on them we will release only #1 records."
This ambition has made the Motown system the avowed role model for every entrepreneur that followed in the music industry. It also made Diana Ross and the Supremes' body of work an absolute amazement of riches: it's hard, without the charts in front of you, to recall which were No. 1's and which weren't, since they all sound like No 1's in retrospect. "My World is Empty Without You," a moody introspection worthy of "Bernadette," was followed up by the locomotive "Love is Like an Itching in My Heart," all bluesy sentiment, with a Smokey-esque rhyme scheme. Put it on and see if that Supremes A Go Go album cover doesn't materialize in your mind's eye, with Diana whipping her hair back. Diana Ross and the Supremes' hits turned out to be both timely and timeless: the rhythm and drama of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" predicted disco's hyperactivity, while "Reflections" and "Love Child" responded to shifting musical and social trends, but maintained the emotional
immediacy of the first Supremes hits. They forged a Tin Pan Alley-like fusion in "You Can't Hurry Love," and more pop classicism of the purest sort followed, in "Someday We'll Be Together."
The visuals of Diana Ross and the Supremes were imprinted on America's consciousness at the same time that their run of hits was mounting. The lush sound of "Love is Here and Now You're Gone," which kicked off 1967 at No. 1, was of a piece with the group's runway glamor and uptown chic. The movie theme "The Happening" was another key chart-topper for a group that had led Motown off the Motortown Revue buses and onto the stages of Vegas and the New York supper clubs. Berry Gordy's determination to groom and present Motown acts in every corner of the world, and in every entertainment medium, would lead Diana Ross and the Supremes to co-starring turns with legendary labelmates The Temptations in two top-rated television specials, Takin' Care of Business and Get It Together on Broadway, and in a top 10 single, "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me."
None of the music seemed to date itself, as Supremes songs were remade repeatedly while the originals continued to play on radio, in movies and TV. It proved this: the sound of young America spoke to the dreams of young America. The Supremes phenomenon is often documented with iconic images -- wigs and lashes; homemade teenage dresses that transformed, Cinderella-like, into designer couture; three beautiful faces in repose or in the heat of performance; and that unforgettable Stop!, gesture, to name just a few. But the significance of this success story weren't to be found in the freeze-famed past. The real ripple effects were to be seen in the world itself -- in the cultural significance of putting three beautiful black women on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Born in Saginaw, Michigan, Stevie Wonder moved to Detroit at an early age and has become one of that city's most famous sons. Blind from birth, Stevie has never allowed that to be an obstacle or handicap. His normal childhood activities of playing games and climbing trees with his friends were suddenly set on a different path when his amazing musical talents were spotted by Bonnie White of Smokey Robinson's group The Miracles. White took Stevie to Motown Records and introduced him to Berry Gordy, the company's founder, who instantly recognized his tremendous musical potential and signed him to Motown in 1961. He has been with the label ever since and recently signed a life-long deal.
The 1963 release, "Fingertips, Part 2," was Stevie's first number one record and the first of a string of hits throughout the 1960's. However, it wasn't until the 1970's - having made the transition from Little Stevie Wonder the child start to Stevie Wonder the mature, adult superstar - that he began to show the true depth of his potential.
Stevie turned the ripe age of 21; he rejected his previous recording agreements and negotiated the freedom to become a musical pioneer. The albums he recorded in the 1970's, particularly Talking Book (You are the Sunshine of My Life" "Superstition"), Innervisions (Living for the City." "Higher Ground," "All in Love is Fair"), Fulfillingness First Finale ("Boogie on Reggae Woman", "Too Shy to Say"), and Songs in the Key of Life (Isn't She Lovely," "I Wish," "Sir Duke"), met with unprecedented success, netting him 15 Grammy Awards. For many, these albums became icons of the seventies.
Stevie continued his success into the 1980's with his Hotter Than July album, which became the springboard that launched his campaign to have January 15 the birthday of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, declared a U.S. national holiday. In 1984, his efforts culminated in success when President Ronald Reagan announced that the third Monday of each January was to be officially known as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
1984 was also a big year for Stevie on the recording front with the song "I just Called to Say I Love You," from the soundtrack of the motion picture The Woman in Red, wining him an Oscar. This song also became Motown's all time biggest-selling single internationally. This wasn't Stevie's first foray into movie soundtrack recording. He had previously recorded the soundtrack to the film Secret Life of Plants in 1979. And subsequently, he enjoyed considerable success with the 1992 release of the multi-hit LP to director Spike Lee's film Jungle Fever. The album that was recorded in the amazingly short span of only three weeks.In 1985, Stevie continued his record success with the LP In Square Circle, which contained the hit single "Part Time Lover".
By now, however, Stevie was starting to show some unease about the direction the things were moving, both musically and socially, in young America. In the late eighties, it became vague in music to espouse the virtues of street violence and disrespect of one's fellow man and more particularly woman. His 1987 Characters album remained true to his principals of love and respect, but was not met with critical acclaim. Undeterred, Stevie began work immediately on Conversation Peace, an album which, as the title implies, underscores his continuing belief that the peaceful road is the better way.
Levi Stubbs (b. c.1938, Detroit, Michigan, USA), Renaldo 'Obie' Benson (b. 1937, Detroit, Michigan, USA), Lawrence Peyton (b. c.1938, Detroit, Michigan, USA, d. 10 June 1997) and Abdul 'Duke' Fakir (b. c.1938, Detroit, Michigan, USA), first sang together at a party in Detroit in 1954. Calling themselves the Four Aims, they began performing at supper clubs in the city, with a repertoire of jazz songs and standards.
In 1956, they changed their name to the Four Tops to avoid confusion with the popular singing group the Ames Brothers, and recorded a one-off single for the R&B label Chess. Further unsuccessful recordings appeared on Red Top, Columbia and Riverside between 1958 and 1962, before the Four Tops were signed to the Motown jazz subsidiary Workshop, in 1963. Motown boss Berry Gordy elected not to release their initial album, Breaking Through, in 1964, and suggested that they record with the label's Holland/Dozier/Holland writing and production team. The initial release from this liaison was 'Baby I Need Your Loving', which showcased the group's strong harmonies and the gruff, soulful lead vocals of Levi Stubbs; it reached the US Top 20. The following year, another Holland/Dozier/Holland song, 'I Can't Help Myself', topped the charts, and established the Four Tops as one of Motown's most successful groups.
Holland/Dozier/Holland continued to write and produce for the Four Tops until 1967. The pinnacle of this collaboration was 'Reach Out I'll Be There', a transatlantic hit in 1966. This represented the pinnacle of the traditional Motown style, bringing an almost symphonic arrangement to an R&B love song; producer Phil Spector described the record as 'black [ Bob ] Dylan'. Other major hits such as 'It's The Same Old Song' and 'Bernadette' were not as ambitious, although they are still regarded as Motown classics today.
In 1967, the Four Tops began to widen their appeal with soul-tinged versions of pop hits, such as the Left Banke 's 'Walk Away Renee' and Tim Hardin 's 'If I Were A Carpenter'. The departure of Holland, Dozier and Holland from Motown later that year brought a temporary halt to the group's progress, and it was only in 1970, under the aegis of producer/writers like Frank Wilson and Smokey Robinson, that the Four Tops regained their hit status with a revival of the Tommy Edwards hit 'It's All In The Game', and the socially aware ballad 'Still Waters'. That same year, they teamed up with the Supremes for the first of three albums of collaborations. Another revival, Richard Harris 's hit 'MacArthur Park', brought them success in 1971, while Renaldo Benson also co-wrote Marvin Gaye 's hit single 'What's Going On'.
The most successful group in black music history was formed in 1961 in Detroit, Michigan, USA, by former members of two local R&B outfits. Eddie Kendricks (b. 17 December 1939, Union Springs, Alabama, USA) and Paul Williams (b. 2 July 1939, Birmingham, Alabama, USA, d. 17 August 1973) both sang with the Primes ; Melvin Franklin (b. David English, 12 October 1942, Montgomery, Alabama, USA, d. 23 February 1995, Los Angeles, California, USA), Eldridge Bryant and Otis Williams (b. Otis Miles 30 October 1941, Texarkana, Texas, USA) came from the Distants.
Initially known as the Elgins, the quintet were renamed the Temptations by Berry Gordy when he signed them to Motown in 1961. After issuing three singles on the Motown subsidiary Miracle Records, one of them under the pseudonym of the Pirates, the group moved to the Gordy label. 'Dream Come Home' provided their first brief taste of chart status in 1962, although it was only when they were teamed with writer, producer and performer Smokey Robinson that the Temptations achieved consistent success.
The group's classic line-up was established in 1963, when Eldridge Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin (b. 18 January 1941, Meridian, Mississippi, USA). His gruff baritone provided the perfect counterpoint to Kendricks' wispy tenor and falsetto, a contrast that Smokey Robinson exploited to the full. Over the next two years, he fashioned a series of hits in both ballad and dance styles, carefully arranging complex vocal harmonies that hinted at the group's doo-wop heritage. 'The Way You Do The Things You Do' was the Temptations' first major hit, a stunningly simple rhythm number featuring a typically cunning series of lyrical images. 'My Girl' in 1965, the group's first US number 1, demonstrated Robinson's graceful command of the ballad idiom, and brought Ruffin's vocals to the fore for the first time. This track, featured in the movie 'My Girl', was reissued in 1992 and was once again a hit. 'It's Growing', 'Since I Lost My Baby', 'My Baby' and 'Get
Ready' continued the run of success into 1966, establishing the Temptations as the leaders of the Motown sound. 'It's Growing' brought a fresh layer of subtlety into Robinson's lyric writing, while 'Get Ready' embodied all the excitement of the Motown rhythm factory, blending an irresistible melody with a stunning vocal arrangement.
Norman Whitfield succeeded Robinson as the Temptations' producer in 1966 - a role he continued to occupy for almost a decade. He introduced a new rawness into their sound, spotlighting David Ruffin as an impassioned lead vocalist, and creating a series of R&B records that rivalled the output of Stax and Atlantic for toughness and power. 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg' introduced the Whitfield approach, and while the Top 3 hit 'Beauty Is Only Skin Deep' represented a throwback to the Robinson era, 'I'm Losing You' and 'You're My Everything' confirmed the new direction. The peak of Whitfield's initial phase with the group was 'I Wish It Would Rain', a dramatic ballad that the producer heightened with delicate use of sound effects. The record was another major hit, and gave the Temptations their sixth R&B number 1 in three years. It also marked the end of an era, as David Ruffin first requested individual credit before the group's name, and when this was refused,
elected to leave for a solo career. He was replaced by ex- Contour Dennis Edwards, whose strident vocals fit perfectly into the Temptations' harmonic blend. Whitfield chose this moment to inaugurate a new production style.
Conscious of the psychedelic shift in the rock mainstream, and the inventive soul music being created by Sly And The Family Stone, he joined forces with lyricist Barrett Strong to pull Motown brutally into the modern world. The result was 'Cloud Nine', a record that reflected the increasing use of illegal drugs among young people, and shocked some listeners with its lyrical ambiguity. Whitfield created the music to match, breaking down the traditional barriers between lead and backing singers and giving each of the Temptations a recognizable role in the group. Over the next four years, Whitfield and the Temptations pioneered the concept of psychedelic soul, stretching the Motown formula to the limit, introducing a new vein of social and political comment, and utilizing many of rock's experimental production techniques to hammer home the message. 'Runaway Child, Running Wild' examined the problems of teenage rebellion; 'I Can't Get Next To You' reflected
the fragmentation of personal relationships (and topped the US charts with the group's second number 1 hit); and 'Ball Of Confusion' bemoaned the disintegrating fabric of American society. These lyrical tracks were set to harsh, uncompromising rhythm tracks, steeped in wah-wah guitar and soaked in layers of harmony and counterpoint.
The Temptations were greeted as representatives of the counter-culture, a trend that climaxed when they recorded Whitfield's outspoken protest against the Vietnam War, 'Stop The War Now'. The new direction alarmed Eddie Kendricks, who felt more at home on the series of collaborations with the Supremes that the group also taped in the late 60s. He left for a solo career in 1971, after recording another US number 1, the evocative ballad 'Just My Imagination'. He was replaced first by Richard Owens, then later in 1971 by Damon Harris. This line-up recorded the 1972 number 1, 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone', a production tour de force which remains one of Motown's finest achievements, belatedly winning the label its first Grammy award.