Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Motown Top Selling Singles Part 1

Motown Label

Motown Record Corporation was founded in 1959 by Berry Gordy, Jr., in Detroit, Michigan. The name was, in fact, a nod the Detroit, known as the Motor City. At the time, Gordy was a songwriter of note, writing for stars like Jackie Wilson. Gordy felt like he was making little money writing songs, and the real money was in running a label. The first songs were put out on the Tamla label, in 1959. The first act signed by the fledgling company was a group called the Matadors. They changed their name to the Miracles, and the lead singer was William 'Smokey' Robinson.

Tamla/Motown Logo

With that bit of history written, I thought it would be interesting to look at what the top-selling singles for Motown Record Corporation, and it's subsidiaries, from 1959 until 1975, what I would call the heyday of the label. Of course, I was surprised when I discovered the top five-selling singles for the label didn't come from that period, but from the 1990s and one from the 1980s. However, I will take the top ten from the era I picked out, and unveil them today and tomorrow. To kick off this trip down memory lane, I will being with the #10-#6 songs according to Billboard. The #10 selling single is a group who had three songs in the top 10, and one more from the lead singer after she went solo. I am of course referring the great Supremes, with lead singer Diana Ross. In 1964, the group had the utterly charming "Baby Love", written by the brilliant team of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian Holland and Edward Holland, Jr. It was said Gordy suggested the writers to give Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson a song similar to their last hit, "Where Did Our Love Go?" The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks in the fall of 1964, just what Gordy was looking for.

In 1956, The Aims were signed by Chess Records to record, having been 'discovered' while performing in and around Detroit. Only they had to change their name, for fear they might be confused with the Ames Brothers. So Levi Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir, Renaldo "Obie" Benson, and Lawrence Payton called themselves The Four Tops. Their time at Chess, as well as a few other record companies, didn't work out, and in 1963, Gordy signed them for Motown. With the brilliant Levi Stubbs on lead vocals, the group were a great success for Motown, including on their great single, "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)". It was the #9 song on this list, once again written by the songwriting team of Holland - Dozier - Holland. The son was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks in 1965, so enjoy this clip of the Four Tops singing it live.

The ever-brilliant Miss Diana Ross has the #8 song on the list with what was only her second solo single, and her first solo #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" was written by another incredible team of writers in the Motown stable, the husband/wife team of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. They wrote it as a duet for the first release, featuring the ample talents of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. It was a big hit for them in 1967, but was also a great hit for Ross in 1970, making it to the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Watch as 'The Boss' performs "Ain't No Mountain High Enough", a song that quickly became one of her signature songs.

While we are at it, the #7 entry on the list is another great song from The Supremes. In fact, it was the song that inspired the previous entry. "Where Did Our Love Go" was also the first Billboard #1 for Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson. It was also the first of five singles in a row by the ladies to make it to the top of the charts. Again, it was written by Holland - Dozier - Holland, men who definitely put their stamp on the music world. Here is the great 1964 hit, "Where Did Our Love Go?"

Now it is time to visit with the #6 song on the list. It was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. Strong was the first member of the Motown roster to have a radio hit, with "Money (That's What I Want)", in 1959. He remained with the label, writing and performing. Teaming up with the bold vocals of Edwin Starr, "War" went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was not only a popular song, it was also one of the most popular protest songs of all time. Oddly, after the attacks of 9-11, media powerhouse Clear Channel put this song on a list of inappropriate songs. This is still a great song, so enjoy Edwin Starr on "War".

Look for the Top 5 tomorrow!


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