By early 1982 my love affair with the Top 40 was all but over. I still consider 1979-81 to be a fantastic era for music; blessed with the energy of punk, lyrically influenced by the societal issues of the day and stylistically inspired by 60s, ska and roots – at least the stuff I loved anyway. By ’82 synthesisers and emotionless new romantics with fake plastic sentiment had replaced Dexys, The Jam and The Specials. Fuck that. I was looking elsewhere for inspiration and musical kicks. I was heading back to the 60s.
Marvin Gaye was next. A few of his singles were well known to me inspiring me to make this 3-disc mountain of classic Marvin my next purchase and new obsession. It contained everything from his early Motown releases up to and including gems from his classic What’s Going On, the tracks from which soon became my focus. Marvin Gaye sung like an angel, oozing laid-back cool. Duets with Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tami Terrell just brought smiles, epitomising happiness through perfect vocal harmony. But it was those later tracks that I couldn’t resist – this was cool with a conscience – groundbreaking for the Motown hit factory.
Once more this was my classroom. Inner City Blues, What’s Going On and Mercy Mercy Me raised my conscience, despite being penned ten years previously these issues were still real and even more relevant. “Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas, fish full of mercury / What about this overcrowded land / How much more abuse from man can she stand?” And this music was beautiful; notes were gently caressed, beats were blessed, flowing with ethereal refrain and Marvin’s vocals… stunning, soulful and sublime.
My love of Marvin Gaye still remains after more than 30 years. He led the way in developing black music both musically and politically, changing attitudes and beliefs whilst influencing his and future generations. I look at this album cover and I feel joy, I feel awakening and I feel love.
On Valentine’s Day in 1970 this album was the first ever compilation to reach No.1 in the UK album chart. Eleven years later it was my vinyl introduction to the Detroit hit factory, Motown. From my ever-decreasing memory I vaguely remember purchasing it for two reasons – firstly the track listing (bearing in mind my junior knowledge of Motown) looked fantastic, and secondly the sleeve, in all its shining glory looked even better. Yes, I was an early sucker for an eye-catching cover.
Having subsequently purchased all twelve volumes I believe I managed to choose the best first. Having visited the original Motown recording studio in Detroit some ten years later it would be accurate to say black American music from around ’62-’72 became a fixation throughout my late teens and twenties. Much of what I was enjoying from UK bands at the time was influenced by many of the artists on this album, but more importantly it was the names behind the artists who created the inspirational sound and production that was so unique and uplifting. I didn’t yet know these names (most notably the songwriting genius of Holland-Dozier-Holland and producer Norman Whitfield), but I knew how this music affected me. Motown made me smile and it made me want to dance.
Smokey Robinson – The Tracks Of My Tears
Live (1965) from Im Daebum on Vimeo.
Featuring tracks from the mid to late 60s, I had my favourites. The cool and passionate calling of Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine and Smokey Robinson’s timeless tear-jerker The Tracks Of My Tears. The relentlessly joyous Stevie Wonder and my album favourite (I’m A) Road Runner by Jr. Walker & The All Stars were and still all remain musical gems; masterpieces of songwriting and production. Berry Gordy’s Motown record label is possibly the most notorious success story in the history of the popular music industry. Why? Because of where the music came from, its sheer belligerent sparkle and ultimately how far it reached.
Smokey Robinson summed it up perfectly – “Into the ’60s, I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music, we were making history. But I did recognize the impact because acts were going all over the world at that time. I recognized the bridges that we crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized that because I lived it. I would come to the South in the early days of Motown and the audiences would be segregated. Then they started to get the Motown music and we would go back and the audiences were integrated and the kids were dancing together and holding hands.”