BOOK REVIEW – “I Hear A Symphony: Motown and Crossover R&B” by J. Andrew Flory.
Like many of you, I have read a considerable number of Motown related books over the years. Some were good, some excellent, while others left a bit to be desired. The likes of ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ by Nelson George, “Berry, Me and Motown” by Ramona Gordy Singleton, Women of Motown by Susan Whitall and ‘The Stories Behind The UK Singles’ by Terry Wilson fall into the former categories, while the likes of ‘The Seduction of Mary Wells’ would fall into the latter.
The latest to hit the bookshelves, ‘I Hear A Symphony’, which was published in June this year by The University of Michigan Press, does, as the press release states, “opens new territory in the study of Motown’s legacy”. It is not a ‘warts and all’ story of the label, nor does it delve, yet again, into the somewhat murky past of the artists who gave us countless memorable tunes that would form the backing track of our lives. Neither are there detailed pen pictures of those same artists, something that would do little to persuade anyone to purchase this 368 page book.
Flory, an assistant professor of music at Carleton College Minnesota, something that clearly stands out within the pages, as he often speaks in musical terms, covers all areas the Motown story well, whilst not boring the reader with numerous worthless facts and figures and produces a more academic look at what the company was about and how it created its unique sound.
You may question the ‘Crossover’ in the title, but it is purely down to the fact that the label took black American music to where it had not ventured previously, changing the whole concept of ‘pop’ music, not only in the States, but across Europe.
The book is not abundant with photographs, you have seen the majority of them all before anyway, but the ones that are used fit the purpose, while there are a number of examples as to how some of the cover versions altered the musical arrangement of the original.
As I said earlier, the book consists of 368 pages, but just over 200 of those contain the actual narrative. The rest of the publication is made up of an Appendix, where the author lists some seven pages of “Selected International Recordings of Motown Songs 1963-68 (Excluding England). Hands up those of you who knew that Fia Karin recorded Heat Wave in France, Les Gams did Where Did Our love Go in Germany and Gabi Novak went into the studio and recorded Reach Out I’ll Be There in Yugoslavia? I certainly didn’t. Even some of the selected British recordings raise the eyebrow. The Fourmost doing Baby I Need Your Loving, Freddie and the Dreamers on Money and Adrienne Posta with The Way You Do The Things You Do.
Those latter three pages are followed by almost 80 pages of Notes, which to be honest is interesting reading in itself, with the Bibliography taking up a further sixty pages. An Index takes you through to the end.
Unfortunately for the pocket, the book does not come cheap – Amazon have it in paperback at £41.50, while the Kindle edition retails at £29.44, perhaps not the cover price to persuade you to purchase and to be honest, although a good and interesting read, many will be put off by this.
Having said that, I did enjoy it and it is well written, but there are better books on the subject out there.