When I was first approached about directing the spring production, I began to think about possibilities but kept coming back to one idea, Motown. Not just because the famous record label graced the world with some of the most timeless music and greatest artists in popular music history, but because of the fascinating story behind it. The fact that Berry Gordy could start the label with an $800 family loan, utilize many of the “assembly line” techniques he learned in the Detroit auto factories, and hire the best jazz musicians in Detroit in order to churn out over 100 top ten hits seems like a Hollywood screenplay. But, the story-line that I thought would most resonate at CI was the important role Motown played in integration during a very segregated time in American history. Gordy consciously wanted his music to crossover to mainstream white America and thanks to his efforts, and those of all the great Motown artists, he achieved this vision. Although we have come a long way in social relations in America, many recent events suggest that the poignant lyrics of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and the struggle he sang about almost fifty years ago continues today.-Paul Murphy
Supremes medley: “Stop! In The Name of Love/You Can’t Hurry Love/You Keep Me Hangin’ On”
Musical arrangement by Paul Murphy, Vocal arrangement by Jonas Lee
All five of these amazing hits were written by the Motown dream team of Holland-Dozier-Holland (HDH).
“Stop! In The Name Of Love” Lamont Dozier got the idea for the title after an argument with his girlfriend. In the heat of battle, he yelled, “Stop, in the name of love!” The song was released in early 1965 and became another #1 pop hit for the Supremes.
Lead Vocals – Kailin Doucette, Backing Vocals – Ayla Davidson, Andrea Mendez-Bye
“You Can’t Hurry Love” was based on a gospel song entitled “You Can’t Hurry God”. The goal was to reconstruct ‘Come See About Me’ and give it a more gospel style. In 1964 and 1965, they charted five consecutive #1 pop hits. In 1966, starting with “You Can’t Hurry Love,” the Supremes racked up four more consecutive #1’s.
Lead Vocals – Andrea Mendez-Bye, Backing Vocals – Kailin Doucette, Ayla Davidson
“You Keep Me Hanging On” became the group’s eighth #1 single in November 1966. The song’s signature introductory guitar part originated from a Morse code-like radio sound effect used before a news announcement, heard by Lamont Dozier.
Lead Vocals -Ayla Davidson, Backing Vocals -Kailin Doucette, Andrea Mendez-Bye
Four Tops medley: “I Can’t Help Myself/Reach Out, I’ll Be There” (shortened medley)
Musical and vocal arrangements by Paul Murphy
“I Can’t Help Myself,” another HDH hit, topped the pop and R&B charts in 1965. Lamont Dozier borrowed the chord progression from “Where Did Our Love Go” to create this song. He also incorporated his grandfather’s favorite greeting, “Sugar pie honey bunch.” This song became a breakthrough hit for The Four Tops.
Lead Vocals-Robert Barner, Backing Vocals-Jonas Lee, Alex Sattler, Luke Hardeman, Meghan McCarty, Colette Compton, Sarah Mitchell
“Reach Out, I’ll Be There”
Another HDH hit, this song stood out from other Motown songs due to the use of the flute – an instrument not previously heard on any other Motown track.” This song became their biggest hit, topping the R&B and pop charts in America and the UK.[b]
Lead Vocals -Alex Sattler, Backing Vocals-Jonas Lee, Robert Barner, Luke Hardeman, Meghan McCarty, Colette Compton, Sarah Mitchell
Musical arrangement by Paul Murphy, Vocal arrangement by Jonas Lee and Luke Hardeman
Lead Vocals -Luke Hardeman, Backing Vocals-Kailin Doucette, Ayla Davidson, Leslie Garcia
The song was written and composed by Junior Walker and produced by Berry Gordy. A dance called “The Shotgun” was conceived to accompany the song. It peaked at #4 on the pop charts and #1 on the R&B charts and became the group’s only signature hit.
The song’s opening simulated shotgun blast was created when a guitar player kicked a reverb amplifier.
“Ain’t No Mountain High”
Musical arrangement by Steve Marsh, Orchestration by Brittany Lambert
Lead Vocals-Luke Hardeman and Sophie Holliday
This carefree romantic song was written by the husband and wife songwriting team of Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” peaked at #19 on the pop charts and #3 on the R&B charts. The lead vocals by Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye were recorded separately, with Terrell’s vocals recorded first followed by Gaye’s. The song was later covered by Diana Ross, becoming her first solo #1 hit.
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered”
Music arrangement by Joseph Jennings, Vocal arrangement by Jonas Lee
Lead Vocals-Jonas Lee, Backing Vocals-Kailin Doucette, Ayla Davidson, Sophie Holliday
This was the first Stevie Wonder song he produced himself. Berry Gordy predicted that it would only be a minor success; however, the single became a major hit, reaching #1 on the R&B charts and peaking at #3 the pop charts.
“I Want You Back”
Musical arrangement by Tyler Yahyavi, Vocal arrangement by Paul Murphy
Lead Vocals-Colette Compton, Backing Vocals-Sarah Mitchell, Ayla Davidson, Leslie Garcia, Meghan McCarty
“I Want You Back” was the first single released by the Jackson Five, consisting of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael Jackson. This song written by the Motown songwriting team known as The Corporation, formed by, and including, Gordy specifically to write a debut hit for the Jackson Five. It spent thirteen weeks at the top of the charts, replacing The Beatles’ “Let It Be” at #1.
Musical arrangement by Joseph Jennings, Vocal arrangement by Paul Murphy
Lead Vocals-Alex Sattler, Backing Vocals-Andrea Mendez-Bye,Taylor Kidd, Sophie Holliday
This Stevie Wonder smash hit spent 16 weeks on the charts, peaking at #1 in January 1973, and became Wonder’s second #1 pop hit in the US and arguably his most famous song of his 50 year career.