Debates about the predominance of singer over song (or vice versa) reign eternal. The Temptations' "My Girl" makes a case for the song. It has one of the most memorable melodies of the rock era, one of Smokey Robinson's most memorable lyrics, and a choral structure that could serve any harmony group from early-1950s doo-woppers to Boyz II Men. Here, meaning comes just as much from atmospheric production and arrangement (also by Robinson, with fellow Miracle Ronnie White) as it does from the song itself. The sound has the ozone-intoxicated feeling you get after a summer thunderstorm. Bass and guitar parts – particularly that unforgettable intro – rank with the era's most exquisite, and also set up the declamatory crooning of lead vocal. Perhaps the most thrilling moment comes with the soaring bridge: strings and guitar shimmer against the Temptations' hey hey hey, out of which Ruffin emerges with a swooping yet understated oooh yeah. The offhanded ejaculation gives the rest of the lyrics' romanticism complete credibility.
The Temptations are among the artists featured in the Detroit section of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's Cities and Sound exhibit, part of the Museum's permanent collection.
In January 1961, Motown signed the Supremes, an all-female group who emerged from the poverty of Detroit’s Brewster housing project to become among Motown’s most consistent hitmakers and the most popular female group of the 60s.
Representing the Motown sound at its most stylized, the Supremes were the 1960s’ biggest group after the Beatles. They scored 10 Number One hits, including five in a row, right in the midst of the British Invasion. Diana Ross’ vocals achieved their greatest affect in this period because producers/songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland supplied her with novel concepts that capitalized on her penchant for melodrama. “Stop! In the Name of Love” could be the most dramatic of them all. HDH recordings used gospel elements more proudly and directly than any other Motown productions – the ever-present Motown tambourine is a gospel trademark, for example. But HDH never limited themselves.
“Stop! In the Name of Love” benefits from James Jamerson’s earthquake bassline, the track's baritone sax riff and ringing vibes undercurrent, and an organ part adding tension to Ross' chilling moment: “Stop!” Stylistically, Ross had little more relationship to gospel than Frank Sinatra does, but HDH didn't put her in church, they simply ...
On December 14, 1968, Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" reached Number One on the Billboard charts and stayed there for seven consecutive weeks, carrying it into the new year. "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" is Gaye's essay on salvaging not just a love affair but also the human spirit. With its fretful, self-absorbed vocal, the song distills 400 years of anguish and talking-drum gossip into three minutes and 15 seconds of soul-searching. Producer Norman Whitfield's lovingly detailed music begins with an obsessively reiterated electric piano figure. A simple drum backbeat is followed by rattlesnake tambourine. Then comes chopping guitar and soaring strings. This version of "Grapevine" is memorable even before Gaye opens his mouth. (Gladys Knight and the Pips had an earlier success with the song, Creedence Clearwater Revival a later one.) Whitfield creates a tumult of voices horns, female choruses, echo, bass-drum breakdowns, string arpeggios that serves as a gossiping community, the singer isolated but engulfed within. Gaye protests, but he knows he's trapped.
No single figure has been more closely aligned with Motown than indcutee Smokey Robinson. In addition to leading the Miracles, he served as a Motown producer, songwriter, talent scout and Berry Gordy’s most trusted confidant and right-hand man. On Saturday, June 18, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum welcomed Robinson for a special live interview as part of the Museum's Hall of Fame Series. Dr. Lauren Onkey, vice president of education and public programs at the Rock Hall, interviewed Robinson - watch below for highlights from the event.
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