Motown

The Motown label crafted a uniform house sound so instantly identifiable that "Motown" unequivocally became a style unto itself. During the '60s, Berry Gordy, Jr.'s Detroit label became the biggest independent in the music industry, thanks to its smooth, sophisticated blend of R&B and memorable pop melodies. At Motown, the pop side of the equation took on greater importance than ever before, which helped make the records accessible to a wider audience; their velvety elegance helped cement black popular music firmly into mainstream American culture. Motown often utilized the same core session musicians on their records, which helped lay the Motown sound's basic rhythmic foundation of bouncing bass and echoing drums. But their arrangements were frequently lush and elaborate, adding strings, horns, woodwinds, piano, extra percussion, or whatever else might enhance the music's urbane stylishness. This polished pop craftsmanship, when matched with the smoothly soulful vocals of the Motown artist roster, became ubiquitously popular during the early '60s, with songwriters like Smokey Robinson and the team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland turning out one gem after another with almost assembly-line regularity. When Holland, Dozier and Holland left the label in a dispute over royalties, producer Norman Whitfield became a major figure at Motown, keeping the label in step with the harder, funkier direction much soul music was heading in. In 1970, the Jackson 5 became superstars with a funky bubblegum-soul that began to break away from established Motown formulas, and during the rest of the decade, performers like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder took greater control of their own music, investing it with their own personalities and helping break up the standardized Motown blueprint. It's that blueprint, which brought artists like the Temptations, Four Tops, and Supremes stardom, that people mean when they describe music as "Motown."

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