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Motown Music Essay Sample

Motown Music Essay Sample

On January 12, 1959, American songwriter and record producer Berry Gordy Jr. formed Tamla Records label. This recording company later changed its name to Motown following an influence by the Ford assembly line. At the time, the recording company incorporated itself as Motown Record Corporation at Detroit, Michigan, on April 14, 1960. The label’s name is a portmanteau of the English words motor and town later adopted by Detroit as its nickname. Over the years, Motown was able to add other subsidiary labels to its corporation including Tamla Motown (this is the brand well-known and used outside the United States), Motwon Records, Gordy Records, and Tamla Records. Other minor subsidiaries include Check-Mate Records, MoWest Records, Miracle Records, Weed Records, V.I.P Records, Soul Records, and Motown Yesteryear. In 1959, Gordy’s sisters Anna and Gwen alongside Billy Davis formed Anna Records, after which they chose Gordy to become its president – an offer which Gordy declined. After refusing to become the new company’s president, he used an $800 family loan and royalties earned and established his own private label – Tamla Records. The first of the company’s recordings took place here within the Detroit area (White, Ales, & Oldham, 2016).

Motown’s first release within Detroit regions was Marv Johnson’s “Come to Me”. The company’s initial successful hit was “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong in 1959. The song managed to become number 2 on Billboard’s R&B charts. Over the years, Motown continued producing successful hit songs that topped the country’s charts such as Miracle’s “Shop Around” that became a number 1 R&B hit later peaking to number 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1960. Additionally, “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes became Tamla’s one of number-one pop hits. Motown’s most fruitful years were 1961-1971 when the label managed to have 110 songs in the top 10 hits. During this period, the recording label managed to discover several top artists that produced quality songs. Some of them included the Supremes, Jackson 5, and the Four Tops. Others including the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the Marvelettes succeeded under Tamla (Bjorn & Gallert, 2001).

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The enterprise enjoyed countrywide recognition from both young white and black audiences under its “The Sound of Young America” slogan. This motto allowed it to attract the rising class of young individuals who felt that they could relate with the music. Motown and its subsidiaries worked to release songs of various genres by different artists. Thus, it became one of America’s most diversified and successful music labels handling African-American artists. These genre-labels included Workshop Jazz (jazz), Rare Earth (rock), and Mel-o-dy (country even though it was initially an R&B label). Motown’s musical sound was iconic. By specializing in its musical trademark “The Motown Sound,” the label consequently established its stance on the industry. This signature sound comprised of using “tambourines to accent the back beat”, characteristic chord and melodic structures, and melodic lines composed of bass-guitar beats, and a singing style that encompassed a call-and-response mechanism that was instigated by gospel music (MacKenzie, 2009).

For one to be an artist with the music label, he had to exhibit certain qualities including behavior during and after performances. Gordy instituted the artist development program. Through it, Motown’s acts were fastidiously groomed, choreographed, and dressed to perform live. Gordy told his artists that the success in the popularized white music market was indeed a breakthrough for them making them like the ambassadors for future generations of African-American musicians. For these reasons, the performers had to talk, act, walk, and think like royalties. Ultimately, these perceptions of themselves would alter a less-than-dignified image that whites had of African-Americans during that era. Motown’s management understood that the majority of its signed musicians had come from housing projects, substantially, lacking the required dress and social experiences. Therefore, the Motown management not only saw it unnecessary to educate the performers on such issues, but also managed to create an elegant presentation style that consequently became unique being associated with the company. Additionally, a good understanding of music was essential. It involved knowing the basics of music rhyming, composing, and beat flow. Therefore, to ensure that the artists understood the basics of music composition and performance, the artists’ development program aimed at developing this among the young artists – this program excluded Marvin Gaye and Jr. Walker. The “Motortown Revue” tour was a popular annual event in which the artists participated. Originally, it took place on the “chitlin’ circuit” before becoming the global phenomena it is now. Through these tours, young performers managed to master their social skills, acts, and performances by integrating with and learning from other renowned and experienced artists (Dahl & Bill, 2011).

Group 1

James Brown - I Feel Good

The song “I Got You (I Feel Good)” was sang by James Brown. Brown (1933 – 2006) was an American bandleader, record producer, singer, dancer, and songwriter. He is regarded to be the founding father of funk music, a musical form and dance of the 20th century. He has had 166 singles that have attained number one position on Billboard’s R&B charts. Moreover, during his career, he has also managed to get nominated but did not attain position number one. In most instances, many refer to him as the “Godfather of Soul”. The song is about a man (Brown) expressing happiness after meeting the lady of his life. This is expressed in his repetitive line “Wo! I feel good, I knew that I would, now!” Moreover, Brown expresses how he feels “like sugar and spice” stating his intentions towards the lady and that he would never harm her (Motown, 2009).

“I Feel Good” is a twelve-bar blues song composed of an arrangement of brass-heavy instrumentals. Arguably, the song is almost similar to “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, the previous hit by Brown. Furthermore, it characterizes the first measure as a means of highlighting the funk style developed by Brown. Notably, the song is based on his earlier song “I Found You” that had similar lyrics and melody.

[Chorus]

Wow! I feel good, I knew that I would now

I feel good, I knew that I would now

So good, so good, I got you

 

Wow! I feel nice, like sugar and spice

I feel nice, like sugar and spice

So nice, so nice, I got you

 

[Bridge]

When I hold you in my arms

I know that I can do no wrong

And when I hold you in my arms

My love won’t do you no harm

 

[Chorus]

And I feel nice, like sugar and spice

I feel nice, like sugar and spice

So nice, so nice, I got you

 

[Bridge]

When I hold you in my arms

I know that I can’t do no wrong

And when I hold you in my arms

My love can't do me no harm

 

[Chorus]

And I feel nice, like sugar and spice

I feel nice, like sugar and spice

So nice, so nice, well I got you

 

Wo! I feel good, I knew that I would, now

I feel good, I knew that I would

 

So good, so good, ‘cause I got you

So good, so good, ‘cause I got you

So good, so good, 'cause I got you

 

[Outro]

Hey! Oh (Genius, 2016).

The song is very educative, and I personally like it and do enjoy it. The song has very constructive lyrics of how to appreciate and love the dearest people by promising never to hurt them. Additionally, I enjoy the song for displaying how one should be free to say how they feel regarding their emotional composure. Based on such ingenuity of the composer, the song has managed to become the artist’s highest-ranking hit. “I Feel Good” managed to remain at Billboard’s top R&B charts for six non-consecutive weeks. Additionally, many sporting events have and still use this song as part of their events.

Group 2

Marvellettes - Please, Mr. Postman

The Marvelettes was an American girl music group popular in the mid-1960s. The group consisted of schoolmates Juanita Cowart, Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Tillman, Katherine Anderson, and Georgia Dobbins. Later on, Wanda Young replaced Dobbins before the group signed their first deal. The group was Motown’s first key successful band and substantially successful girl group.  The Marvelettes signed to Tamla in 1961.

The song “Please Mr. Postman” is a debut hit single song by the Marvelettes. Notably, it was Motown’s first song to rank on Billboard’s Hot 100 at number one position in the late 1961. Later on, it reached the same position in the R&B chart. Robert Bateman, Georgia Dobbins, Brian Holland, William Garrett, and Freddie Gorman wrote the song. The song features the composition of a lady (Gladys Horton) who hopes to receive a letter from her boyfriend from the postman. Her boyfriend is away at war. Her anxiety can be seen by her opening remarks, “Oh yes, wait a minute, Mr. Postman. Wait, Mr. Postman” to highlight that she eagerly awaits to hear from him. The lady complains of how he has left her without a letter for many days, always leaving her sad when he does not send a letter. Now, she begs a postman to wait a minute, recheck whether he does, and eventually make her feel better (Motown, 2011).

Oh yes, wait a minute, Mr. Postman

Wait, Mr. Postman

 

There must be some word today

From my boyfriend who’s so far away

Please, Mr. Postman, look and see

Is there a letter, a letter for me?

 

I was standing here waiting, Mr. Postman

So, so patiently

For just a card, for just a letter

Saying he’s returning home to me

 

Please, Mr. Postman

Oh yeah

Please, please, Mr. Postman

Woah yeah

 

So many days you passed me by

You saw the tears standing in my eye

You wouldn’t stop to make me feel better

By leaving me a card or a letter

 

Please, Mr. Postman, look and see

Is there a letter, oh yeah, in your bag for me

You know it’s been so long

Yes, since I heard from this boyfriend of mine

 

You better wait a minute, wait a minute

Oh, you better wait a minute

Please, please, Mr. Postman

Please check and see

Just one more time for me

 

You better wait, wait a minute

Wait a minute, wait a munute, wait a minute

Please, Mr. Postman

Deliver the letter, the sooner the better

 

Wait a minute, wait a minute

Wait a minute, please, Mr. Postman

Wait a minute, wait a minute

Woah (Genius, 2016).

           

Personally, I like how the lady expresses her undying desire to hear from her boyfriend who is away at war. War is a very stressful event affecting those participating in it and those left at home while their loved ones fight. Consequently, while their relatives fight, those staying at home await any news from them (those in the war). In this instance, the lady begs the postman to hold on and recheck whether he has a letter for her. Therefore, I personally admire how the group expresses the feelings of those who eagerly but patiently await to hear about their loved ones who are at war.

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Group 3   

The Temptations - My Girl

The Temptations is an American recording and vocal group best known for their 1960s and 1970s success with Motown Records. The group was formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1960 under the name The Elgins. They have sold millions of albums that made them one of the most successful bands in history. Notably, the group is also known for their flashy wardrobe, choreography, and distinct harmonies, whichrevolutionized the soul and R&B genres.

Ronald White and Smokey Robinson (both The Miracles members) wrote and produced the song. It is about a man who feels happy because of the love shown to him by having a beloved lady in his life. He is not satisfied with the money he has, but yearns for the love of his girl (Motown, 2013).

[Intro]

[Verse 1]

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day

When it’s cold outside I’ve got the month of May

I guess you’d say

What can make me feel this way?

 

[Chorus]

My girl, my girl, my girl

Talkin’ ‘bout my girl, my girl

 

[Verse 2]

I've got so much honey, the bees envy me

I've got a sweeter song, than the birds in the trees

Well, I guess you’d say

What can make me feel this way?

 

[Chorus]

My girl, my girl, my girl

Talkin’ ‘bout my girl, my girl

 

[Bridge]

Hey, hey, hey

Hey, hey, hey

Ooh, yeah

 

[Verse 3]

I don’t need no money, fortune, or fame

I’ve got all the riches baby, one man can claim

Well, I guess you’d say

What can make me feel this way?

 

[Chorus]

My girl, my girl, my girl

Talkin’ ‘bout my girl, my girl

 

[Outro]

I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day

With my girl

I've even got the month of May

With my girl

Talkin’ ‘bout, talkin’ ‘bout, talkin’ ‘bout my girl (Genius. (2016).

The song talks about the kind of emotions one should feel for a person whom they love, by expressing how they feel. Moreover, the song is very educative in showing how one should appreciate the affection they feel towards materialistic things such as money.

 

In conclusion, the Motown Records has been an influential recording label and played a critical role in promoting music among African-Americans. By supporting various artists, from its development to becoming a museum, it has altered the way individuals perceive and perceived African-American performers. Ultimately, Motown and its subsidiaries shaped their artists by influencing how they dressed, talked, thought, and expressed themselves in the social circles. 

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