Motown Sound

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Among the most important architects of The Motown Sound were the members of Motown's in-house team of songwriters and record producers, including Gordy, William "Smokey" Robinson, Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong, and the team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland, Jr., collectively known as Holland-Dozier-Holland. Also instrumental to the sound was the work of Motown's in-house band, The Funk Brothers, who performed the instrumentation on nearly every Motown hit from 1959 to 1971.

About the Motown Sound

While there were popular African American musicians prior to the 1960s, including Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Mamie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, and Chuck Berry, Motown was the most consistently chart-topping genre until hip-hop. In contrast to previous genres of black popular music, Motown soul used African-American performers instead of grooming white musicians for crossover fame. It was also among the first genres of African-American popular music to move beyond simple lyricisms into the realm of socio-political topics, allowing for a wide range of African-American viewpoints to be expressed in song.

The Motown Sound was also defined by the use of orchestration, string sections, charted horn sections, carefully arranged harmonies and other more refined pop music production techniques. It was also one of the first styles of pop music of that era wherein girl groups--including The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and The Marvelettes--were showcased as an act, as opposed to individual female artists.

The Motown producers and the Funk Brothers band used a number of innovative techniques to develop the Motown Sound. Many tracks featured two drummers instead of one, either overdubbed or playing in unison, and three or four guitar lines as well. bassist James Jamerson often played his instrument with only his index finger, and created many of the bubbling basslines apparent on Motown songs such as "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes. While the Funk Brothers had exclusive contracts with Motown, they often secretly recorded instrumental tracks for outside acts, most notably "Cool Jerk" by The Capitols.

The style was also showcased by the work of non-Motown artists, including British counterpart The Foundations. In fact, there was a British counterpart to the Motown Sound known as northern soul.

Examples

  • "My Girl" by The Temptations
  • "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" by The Four Tops
  • "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" by Marvin Gaye
  • "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass
  • "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes
  • "Cool Jerk" by The Capitols
  • "Build Me Up Buttercup" by The Foundations
  • "I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5

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