Soul Deep - The Story of Black Popular Music The Sound Of Young America - Ep 3/6
May 21, 9.00-10.00pm
Motown changed the landscape of pop, rewrote the rulebook and created the sound of young America, which appealed to whites as much as to blacks. Crossover soul was the vision of Motown's founder - Svengali figure Berry Gordy. "Motown was a little hit factory, and I got the idea from the assembly line that I worked in at an automobile plant," he explains. Reflecting the optimism of the early Sixties and the promise of integration, Gordy's artists were coached, groomed and targeted at the lucrative white audience. Gordy's crack song-writing team Holland/Dozier/Holland in Detroit pumped out 40 hits for artists such as The Supremes, Martha Reeves,The Temptations and The Four Tops. "If we didn't get the goose bumps or the hair standing on the arms, then something was missing," comments Lamont Dozier. His master strokes for cracking the uptown, white establishment was hiring both Maxine Powell, who ran the Artists Development finishing school, and white marketeer Barney Ales, who ensured that the company always got paid. Supreme Mary Wilson recalls: "It was Maxine Powell's job to refine us. She very early on told us that we were all diamonds, in the raw, and we needed refining."
Over in Chicago, white-owned, family business Chess Records enviously eyed up Motown's success. Although the label already had a reputation for blues and black rock 'n' roll, they wanted a fresh sound that echoed the mood of the growing aspirational black population. By "sweetening" with strings and pop arrangements, the gritty Chicago sound was transformed into sophisticated soul. Etta James' Only Time Will Tell brought Chess a taste of crossover magic and Fontella Bass's hit Rescue Me emulated the Motown formula. As the mood of the nation changed, with the rise of the civil rights movement and protests over the Vietnam War, it was in Chicago - not Detroit - that music with a social conscience was first heard.
In People Get Ready and Choice Of Colours Curtis Mayfield captured the zeitgeist and sang openly about community struggle and racial harmony.The Detroit riots were a huge wake-up call for Motown, who now seemed embarrassingly out of kilter. Cracks appeared in the company when, after a dispute about money, Holland/Dozier/Holland left, producer Mickey Stevenson departed and Supreme Flo Ballard was fired. But Gordy was a survivor and, determined to prove the company could move with the times, he released Love Child by Diana Ross and the Supremes.The song, which had a social message, became one of the biggest selling records in Motown's history. Gordy moved the business out to LA and it entered a second golden age. But the age of innocence for Motown was over