Detroit in the 1950s was a bustling city to which Southern blacks were drown by the lure of jobs in the auto industry. They congregated on the Eastside, a rough and tumble neighborhood centered around Hastings Street, which pulsed to the beat of blues from such Mississippi Delta immigrants as John Lee Hooker. Out of the grittiness of the urban blues scene evolved the polished pop-soul sound of Motown. Appealing to both black and white listeners, Motown was “the Sound of Young America,” as their motto had it.
The key to Motown’s success was the creative team of singers, songwriters, producers, arrangers and musicians assembled by label founder Berry Gordy at a two-story headquarters that he dubbed “Hitsville U.S.A.” From there, the Motown Records Corporation perfected what came to be known as the “Motown Sound” - a carefully refined blend of pop’s upbeat catchiness, the soulfulness of rhythm & blues, and the repetitive intensity of gospel music.
In its 1960s heyday, Motown know no peers. Its stable of artists included the Temptations, the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, Mary Wells, the Marvelettes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5. The solo careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Smokey Robinson originated at Motown. Gordy employed the principles of competition and camaraderie to get results. He hired the best talent - such as the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who produced 28 Top 20 hits in a three-year stretch - and dared them to top themselves.
Under Gordy’s tutelage, Motown’s musicians took the concept of formula pop to a new level of sophistication and, thanks to the music’s gospel-blues roots, visceral intensity. Meanwhile, its well-manicured stars promoted an image of upward mobility and clean, wholesome fun. Young America’s collective buying power pushed 120 singles by Motown artist into the Top 20 during the 1960s. In the end, Motown offered a well-tuned sound that roared and purred like a Ford Thunderbird rolling off a Detroit assembly line.