This Saturday, Motown Records celebrates 60 years since the label was set up by founder Berry Gordy in Detroit, the first step in it becoming one of the most influential record labels of all time.
It all started with Gordy, a songwriter, was offered a role at a label, but decided he wanted to make it on his own. He set out with an $800 loan from his family, and set about creating a roster of artists which eventually included Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, The Jackson 5, The Supremes, Boyz II Men, Four Tops, The Temptations, scoring 79 top 10 hits in America throughout the 1960s.
The spirit of Motown is kept alive today productions around the world with Motown the Muscial, which gives audiences a chance to relive performances by these legendary artists.
To celebrate the label's 60th birthday, we asked Jay Perry, who currently plays Gordy in the West End production, for his five favourite Motown hits.
5) "What’s Going On" - Marvin Gaye
This song lyrically is one of the most complex in the show. It showcases Marvin’s incredible ability to write insane music with a political narrative. To me, this song evokes thoughts of social and political unrest in America, and is as relevant today as it was when first written and recorded.
4) "Dancing In The Street" - Martha and The Vandellas
This song does what it says on the tin; it genuinely forces a feeling of euphoria into your bloodstream when listened to. The horn section from the very beginning of this song is so celebratory and joyful that you cannot help but move and groove along to the beat. This will live on forever as one of the most easily recognisable Motown hits. Night after night the audience becomes instantly pumped from hearing this song blaring through the theatre.
3) "Grapevine" - Marvin Gaye
Another Marvin song - can you tell he is my favourite Motown artist?! This song oozes sex appeal. Marvin went through a lot of different phases in his career but personally, I think this was the sound that suited him best. Something in his voice just sent people crazy and this song aligns so well with that! His raspy voice flips into the falsetto that he does throughout the song, which is so iconic but so effortless. It’s interesting that a song which is quite confrontational lyrically can be performed so sweetly that the audience completely forgets the meaning behind it. I think that sums up Marvin as a character as well, his fans mostly didn’t recognise the pain behind his music because they were so transfixed by his voice.
2) "To Be Loved" - Jackie Wilson
Now this song holds a special place in my heart. Firstly, I get the pleasure of singing this song every night, and secondly because it is my favourite Motown song lyrically. I was told once that the best songs are the most simple and very often about love. Well, this one is both, the lyrics are very simple but so beautifully strung together and there’s something about the feeling of being loved that almost feels revolutionary every time I hear this song. We so often talk of the feeling of being in love with someone or falling out of love with someone, but this song explores quite simply accepting love that has been offered and basking in it. This being one of the first songs Berry Gordy ever wrote, to me, sets up the legacy that now stands after so many more hits!
1) "My Girl" - The Temptations
This has always been and will always be my favourite Motownsong of all time. It is recognisable from the first few bars and every night without fail, it will get one of the biggest cheers of the night. You can almost feel the sense of nostalgia in the theatre when this song plays as most of the audience remember where they were when they first heard this song. The opening lyric could be one of the best written of all time: "I’ve got sunshine, on a cloudy day". So simple and poetic at the same time. When I leave this show, I will take this song with me as a memory of pure theatre magic, it’s like the world stops for 3 minutes when this song is performed, the audience gives their undivided attention and you honestly feel like you could be at any point in time.