Smokey Robinson

Motown is a style of R&B/soul named after the Detroit record label Motown Records. Founded in 1958 by Berry Gordy Jr., “the Motown sound” defined an era and has influenced music for decades.

The label was home to some of R&B’s most popular and influential artists, including groups like The Temptations, The Supremes, and Jackson 5, and solo acts such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson. It had 110 top-10 hits from 1961 to 1971, according to Wikipedia.

The Motown sound typically had a strong rhythm, prominent bass, and often cheerful vocals with a polished, crossover appeal. Many of the labels hits were produced by Gordy and written by the legendary trio Holland-Dozier-Holland.

However, Smokey Robinson described the style like this:

“People would listen to it, and they’d say, ‘Aha, they use more bass. Or they use more drums.’ Bullshit. When we were first successful with it, people were coming from Germany, France, Italy, Mobile, Alabama. From New York, Chicago, California. From everywhere. Just to record in Detroit. They figured it was in the air, that if they came to Detroit and recorded on the freeway, they’d get the Motown sound. Listen, the Motown sound to me is not an audible sound. It’s spiritual, and it comes from the people that make it happen. What other people didn’t realize is that we just had one studio there, but we recorded in Chicago, Nashville, New York, L.A.—almost every big city. And we still got the sound.”

Discover Motown’s most memorable tracks below. (View the entire playlist here.)

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