I already mentioned that Berry Gordy, Jr., founded Motown Record Company in 1959, after discovering that writing hit songs will not guarantee making a living in music. So Motown was born, in a nod to his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, known as the Motor City for the auto industry that was at the core of the area. Gordy was making music with a strong stable of writers and talent, with the Motown label, as well as the other companies under the umbrella, like the Tamla label.
So I happened across a list of the top-selling Motown hits, and I decided to feature the songs released from 1959 to 1975, a period I consider the 'classic' years of the record company. The list is from Billboard magazine, and is an amazing collection of talent. The #5 song on the list was written by The Corporation, made up of Berry Gordy, Jr., Freddie Perren, Alphonzo Mizell and Deke Richards. It was also the second single for a young family group, as well as their second #1 song. Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, Randy and Michael were first discovered by Gladys Knight, who recommended Gordy sign them, but Gordy was hesitant to sign young boys. Later, when Gordy saw a videotape of the boys performing, he decided to sign them, and it wasn't long before he was grooming the Jackson 5 to be the next big thing from Motown. The second single from the family act is the #5 best-selling single for Motown, "ABC", as it was debuted on 'American Bandstand' in 1970.
In the #4 position, we have the last entry from the ladies many consider the most successful 'girl group' of all time. In 1968, Diana Ross & the Supremes had a huge hit with "Love Child". But it wasn't the Supremes everyone knew. While it was still Diana Ross and Mary Wilson, in 1967 Florence Ballard was let go, and Cindy Birdsong was brought on. (Many see this rift as the core for the Broadway musical 'Dreamgirls') by Diana Ross & the Supremes in 1968. But right after the change, the sales fell off. So Gordy got together with the team called The Clan; R. Dean Taylor, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer, Deke Richards, and Henry Cosby. Out of this came "Love Child, which spent two weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968.
It is hard for me to imagine a song that is more sultry, and more suggestive than the #3 entry on the list. In a song written by performer Marvin Gaye and Ed Townsend, "Let's Get It On" went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks, and #1 on the Billboard Soul chart for an amazing 8 weeks. Marvin certainly put the finishing touches on his reputation for being a sexual icon with the 1973 song released on the Tamla label.
For the #2 song on the list, we will have to return to the boys from Gary, Indiana. The Jackson 5 were already on a roll, having the first three singles top the Pop charts. But with "I'll Be There", they changed things up by offering a beautiful ballad instead of the frothy bubblegum Pop they had previously offered. The song, written by Berry Gordy, Bob West, Willie Hutch, and Hal Davis, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for five weeks. This made the Jackson 5 the first group of African American males to have four consecutive #1 Pop hits. The lead vocals were shared by Michael and his brother Jermaine.
And finally, after a long wait, we find out what was the best-selling song of the Motown classic years. It only seems right we return to one of the great talents already on the list. In his second appearance on the list, and his second in the top 3, we have Marvin Gaye and the amazing "I Heard It Through The Grapevine". The song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1966 for Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, but was rejected by Berry Gordy, Jr., who thought it wasn't strong enough. Whitfield and Strong worked on it more, and had Gaye record it in 1967, only to have Gordy once again veto the release. With a few more touches, it was recorded by Gladys Knight & the Pips, and went to #2 on the Billboard Pop chart. So Whitfield returned to the studio with Marvin, and produced the song that became the biggest selling single for Motown Record Company between 1959 and 1975. This was released the year following Gladys' version, and was on top of the charts for seven straight weeks, from December 1968 to January 1969. This is Marvin Gaye singing his best-selling hit on the Tamla label, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine".
So there you have it, folks. Hope you enjoyed visiting all these great songs!