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Motown - The Sound of Young America - Book Review

Motown - The Sound of Young America - Book Review magazine cover




Not another Motown book, I can hear some/many of you mutter, and to be honest, I have to include myself amongst them.

My bookshelves contain numerous titles on the sound that could be judged as the stepping stone to Northern Soul and beyond, with an assortment of authors, artists and those associated with the Detroit label telling their versions of the phenomenal story that took over our lives all those years ago. All those books have their own merits, with some enjoyed more than others.

This latest title, however, is a real heavyweight compared to the others and would put any bookshelf under severe strain with its 400 A4 pages.


At first glance, this is an excellent, no expenses spared publication, from its kaleidoscopic montage of Motown acts which appear on the hard cover through the transparent ‘M’ of the dust jacket, to the stunning use of colour and black and white images within its numerous pages. Many of which have never previously appeared in book form before. It must be added though, that a considerable number of the 800 odd images used are album covers and picture sleeves, along with a smattering of single scans, and no, Frank Wilson is nowhere to be seen. Equally interesting are the odd bits of memorabilia, such as the ‘Motown Fan Bag’, concert posters, adverts and ‘HitKit’ magazine – anyone got a copy?


From the opening pages it paints a picture of Detroit in those harsh mid-sixties days of segregation, before taking you on a whistle stop musical tour, criss-crossing the Atlantic, emphasising just how Britain embraced this new sound. Moving on from the thumping, dance floor friendly beat, to the funkier sounds of latter years.

Well written by Adam White, former editor-in-chief of Billboard and Barney Ales, the one-time right hand man of Berry Gordy, the contribution of the latter giving it a big plus point, the book, however, unfortunately falls short of standing alongside the ‘warts and all’ titles previously published and tends to ignore the ‘also-rans’ amongst the all-star Detroit cast, dwelling on the big name stars perhaps a little too much.


The contribution Holland-Dozier-Holland made to the success of the label is all but ignored, as is the equally telling support role of the Funk Brothers. While the likes of the Supremes, Temptations, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Commodors and the Jackson Five feature strongly, others, such as Barbara Randolph, Kin Weston, Brenda Holloway, Jimmy Ruffin and the Velvelettes are conspicuous by their absence. Ok, they are far from being major players, but does Dusty Springfield deserve more mentions than Edwin Starr, Jimmy Ruffin, Kim Weston and the Contours put together? Even the Beatles receive more than twice the mentions than that illustrious quartet

P138,-The-Temptations,-The-Miracles,-Stevie-Wonder,-Martha-and-the-Vandellas-and-The-Supremes-at-EMI-Records-in-March-1965,-for-the-UK-launch-of-the-Tamla-Motown-label.-Courtesy-of-Paul-Nixon.jpg Motown-Museum-Smokey-laughing-in-sound-booth.jpgP207,-Wonder-has-Berry-Gordy's-ear,-1967.-Courtesy-of-the-EMI-Archive-Trust-and-Universal-Music-Group.jpgP105,-Smokey-Robinson-and-the-Miracles-turn-the-tables-during-a-photoshoot.-Courtesy-of-the-EMI-Archive-Trust-and-Universal-Music-Group.jpg


In all honesty, I do not think this book sets out to be anything like a definitive history of the label that we all love and know so well and as the Press Release states, it was “published to coincide with the opening of the critically acclaimed show “Motown: The Musical” in London’s West End”. Looking at it from this angle, it does the job for someone not overly familiar with the label and wanting to know more.

From a personal point of view, I think an October/November release date would have been more beneficial sales wise, capturing the Christmas market, as many might find the cover price of £39.95 (which clearly reflects the overall quality of the publication),  a little off putting for a story that they already know off by heart. However, I have found it priced on Abe Books at £24.23 or on Amazon at £25.97, which might make it that little bit more appealing. 

So, star rating time.

Overall quality of the publication - 5*  as this certainly cannot be faulted.

Illustrations – Going to split this in two. 4.5* for the images used, some of which are excellent and for not using the same old, same old, but only 3* for the over heavy use of album covers and lack of images of some of the acts.

Value for money – If you get it online at a reduced price – 4*

Iain McCartney

March 2016


added by site

Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Thames and Hudson Ltd (14 Mar. 2016)
Language: English
ISBN 9780500518298

27.70 x 21.60 cm

1,000 illustrations in colour and black and white

First published 2016





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Mike profile photo


a 7 day chance to win a copy of this just released book

go here for details



Frankie Crocker profile photo


Available from Barnes and Noble bookshops in the US for $39.95 (and 10% off for members) make this a good buy in the States. Not yet taken the shrink-wrap off mine but it looks a top-notch production and superior to most Motown books I’ve come across.

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