Jenny Laurence’s School of Sound: Soul & Motown

Martha Reeves

By Jenny Laurence

I was recently browsing in a music shop when I realised that my personal collection of Soul classics (particularly from Motown) was rather lacking, considering that I enjoy the music so much. So, as you might be able guess, I bought a 3-CD compilation. Having listened to it all day, I felt like I should share it with you all so it isn’t lost in the folds of time, or my ever-growing CD collection…

According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Soul is “music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.” It became popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s with record labels like Atlantic Records signing people such as Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and Dusty Springfield.

MotownMotown Records became famous for signing a whole string of artists: Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson, and Michael Jackson are just a few of them. Hits from Motown became more commercial (three minutes long) with a more production-line approach, which meant that Soul music was, and still is, often mistakenly called ‘Motown’ because of the popularity of its artists.

Soul music is full of catchy rhythms, handclaps, and impromptu body moves. In many songs, it can also include call and response between the soloist and the chorus. It inspired what is now called ‘Pop’ with easily digestible, relatively fast-paced three-minute songs making their way onto the radio in the 1960s.

‘Do You Love Me’ was released by The Contours in 1962, and is the only song ever to have charted in the US Billboard Hot 100 twice.  The second time was due to the inclusion of the song on Dirty Dancing’s soundtrack. Who doesn’t love the dancing in this music video?

Smokey Robinson (a 73-year-old and still performing) was in a group called The Miracles. ‘Ooo Baby Baby’ was released in 1965 and got to No. 16 in the US. It was on the soundtrack for one of my favourite ever films – The Boat That Rocked.

‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ was recorded by Marvin Gaye in 1968 and spent seven weeks at No. 1 in the US. It also reached No. 1 in the UK.

One of the best songs of the ‘60s (according to my mum) was ‘Dancing in the Street’, and was first recorded by Martha & The Vandellas in 1964. The song was actually written by Marvin Gaye, and was inspired by watching people on the streets of Detroit cool off in the summer in water from opened fire hydrants. It reached No. 2 in the US, No. 5 in the UK, was covered by Mick Jagger and David Bowie, and remains, to this day, an ultimate classic.

From The Temptations came the brilliant song that is ‘My Girl.’ Released in 1964, it made its way to No. 1 in the US and was the main song for the film with the same name.

Also in 1964 (great year) was The Supremes‘ first No. 1 single in the US – ‘Where Did Our Love Go.’ I love the music video for three main reasons: 1) The song is awesome. 2) She’s (oddly) smiling when she’s contemplating a failed relationship and 3) the cars are spectacular. One thing to learn from this video – jaywalking is illegal in the United States, and will be dealt with severely.


Last (but definitely not least) is The Marvelettes with ‘Please Mr Postman,’ which was released in 1961. It was one of Motown’s first successful all-female bands, and the song itself reached No. 1 in the same year.

(Other artists include: The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Jackson 5, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and The Miracles)

Image: by Affendaddy on Flickr (1, 2) (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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