The Motown story is the story of Berry Gordy, Jr., who was born in Detroit Michigan on November
28, 1929. He was the seventh of eight children of Berry Gordy II and Bertha Gordy. His parents had
migrated to Detroit from Milledgeville, Georgia in 1922. His father ran a plastering contracting business
and his mother sold insurance and real estate; they also ran a grocery store and print shop. Berry
Gordy, Jr. dropped out of school after his junior year to become a professional boxer; he decided to get
out of the fight game at about the time the Army drafted him in 1951. During his stint in the Army, he
obtained his high school equivalency degree. In 1953, he married Thelma Coleman and in 1954 his first
child was born, a daughter Hazel Joy. They had two other children, named Berry IV and Terry, but were
divorced in 1959.
When Berry got out of the Army 1953, he opened a jazz-oriented record store called the 3-D Record Mart that was financed by the Berry family. By 1955, the store had failed and Berry was working on the Ford automobile assembly line. While working on the line, Berry constantly wrote songs, submitting them to magazines, contests and singers. His first success as a songwriter came in 1957 when Jackie Wilson recorded "Reet Petite", a song he, his sister Gwen and Billy Davis (under the pseudonym of Tyran Carlo) had written. "Reet Petite" became a modest hit and netted Berry $1000 for the song. Over the next two years he co-wrote four more hits for Wilson, "To Be Loved", "Lonely Teardrops", "That's Why" and "I'll Be Satisfied". Berry later chose the title To Be Loved for his autobiography.
Successful as a songwriter, Berry decided to produce his songs himself. His first production was titled "Ooh Shucks" by the Five Stars, which was released on George Goldner's Mark X label in 1957. Gordy had an extraordinary ability to recognize talent. In 1957 at a Detroit talent show, he saw a group the Miracles and decided to record them. The Miracles consisted of Claudette Rogers, Ronnie White, Pete Moore, Bobby Rogers and the lead singer William "Smokey" Robinson. Berry's first production for the Miracles was an answer record to the Silhouettes "Get a Job," titled "Got a Job," which he leased to Goldner for release on End records. The record got some airplay, but then died a quick death, as did the Miracles follow-up on End titled "I Cry." In 1958, Berry produced a record by Eddie Holland titled "You," which was leased to Mercury records. Also that year, Kudo Records issued 4 more Gordy productions, two of which are significant to the Motown story: the first Marv Johnson release, titled "My Baby O," and a Brian Holland (Eddie's brother) vocal, titled "Shock". With Smokey Robinson and the Holland brothers, Berry had discovered three incredible songwriters and producers.
Also in 1958, he produced a record by Herman Griffin titled "I Need You" on the H.O.B. label, which is notable in that it was the first song to be published by Berry's publishing company called Jobete (pronounced "jo-BET"), named after his three children, Hazel Joy [Jo], Berry IV[Be], and Terry [Te]. "I Need You" was also the first record to credit the Rayber Voices, background singers named after Berry's second wife, Raynoma, and himself.
Gordy decided to take total control of his songs, so on January 12, 1959, he borrowed $800 from his family's loan fund to start his own record label, called Tamla. He had originally wanted to call his label "Tammy," after a Debbie Reynolds film, but that title was already taken. Tamla Records was located at 1719 Gladstone Street in Detroit, and the first release was Marv Johnson's "Come to Me" [Tamla 101]. The song was picked up by United Artists and it became a mid-sized hit. United Artists signed Marv Johnson to a recording contract and Berry Gordy continued to produce him for that label. In 1959, Marv Johnson's "You Got What It Takes" became his first production to break into the pop Top 10.
The third Miracles release was issued on a second label Berry formed, called Motown. The record was called "Bad Girl" and was pressed in minuscule numbers before being leased to Chess records of Chicago, where it was a moderate hit. In early 1960, Tamla released "Money" by Barrett Strong. Gordy knew he had a hit, so he leased it to Anna Records who had a distribution agreement with Chess. Anna Records was a Detroit-based company that was owned by Berry's sisters Anna and Gwen Gordy and Billy Davis. The label operated from 1958 to 1961, when it was absorbed into Motown. "Money" was a hit, reaching the #23 position, but more importantly, Barrett Strong joined Motown as a staff songwriter. He stayed with Motown until 1973.
By the late 1950s, Detroit was perhaps the largest city in the United States that did not have a strong independent record company. With the establishment of Motown, the local talent had an outlet, and they starting showing up at the Motown offices. In 1960, a local girl singing group named the Primettes auditioned for Gordy. He was impressed with the group, but asked them to finish school and then come back. The Primettes came back to Motown after graduating, and were signed in January 1961. The group's name was changed to the Supremes, and they had their first release on Tamla in April of 1961.
In 1960, Gordy met singer Mary Wells at a club where she sang for him, and he suggested she come to the office the next day. Berry signed her immediately and released a song she had written called "Bye Bye Baby" in December of that year. Mary Wells proved to be the first real "star" for the label, with a long string of pop hits. Berry discovered another singing group called the Distants, who changed their name to the Temptations, and released their first record on a new subsidiary label called Miracle in 1961. Their success was not to be as immediate as Mary Wells,' but it would eventually eclipse hers and be far longer lasting.
Also in 1960, Gordy acquired the contract of a young Washington, DC-based singer named Marvin Gaye from his brother-in-law, Harvey Fuqua. Harvey was the leader of the Moonglows, who had had several hits for Chess before making some personnel changes in the late 1950s, and Gaye was a current member of that group. Gaye's first record was "Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide" in 1961. He had his first hit in 1962 with "Stubborn Kind of Fellow." Gaye was another performer whose road to fame was marked by only moderate success for many years before finally becoming a huge 1970s star.
A common trivia question about Motown is, "What is the name of the first white group to record for Motown?" The not-often-heard correct answer is "Nick and the Jaguars," a trio from Pontiac, Michigan featuring drummer Nick Ferro and lead guitarist Marvin Weyer. Nick's dad, Johnny Ferro, brought the group to Berry Gordy in 1959. They recorded instrumentals "Ich-I-Bon #1"/"Cool and Crazy" at the Motown studio, and the tunes were released as a single on Tamla 5501 that year, before the normal 55500 Tamla series even got started.
The first white vocal group was the Valadiers. This group was recommended to Berry Gordy by his pal Jackie Wilson. The Valadiers had one very minor hit in "Greetings (This is Uncle Sam)" on the Miracle label in 1961, and two other releases on the new Gordy subsidiary that was formed in 1962. The song "Greetings (This is Uncle Sam)" became a bigger hit for the Monitors in 1966 on Motown's subsidiary label, V.I.P., during the Vietnam war.
Motown producer Robert Bateman discovered the Marvelettes at a talent show at Inkster High School. In August 1961, Bateman and Brian Holland co-produced the Marvelettes' first record, "Please Mr. Postman," and it became the first of Berry Gordy's records to reach the pop charts' #1 position. During that same year, "Shop Around" by the Miracles became the first Tamla record to sell a million copies, as it reached the #2 position.
In 1959, a young blues singer named Martha Reeves met Mickey Stevenson, the Head of the Motown A&R department, and he hired her as a secretary. When Mary Wells missed a recording session, Martha called a vocal group she was in, the Del-Phis, to fill in. They recorded "There He Is (At My Door)," which was released on the Melody subsidiary. The record was a flop, but the group continued to be used for background vocal work. In 1962, with a new name the Vandellas, they backed Marvin Gaye on his hit "Stubborn Kind of Fellow". In 1963, production of the group was given over to Brian and Eddie Holland with their new partner Lamont Dozier. The Holland-Dozier-Holland production of "Come and Get These Memories" released in early 1963 (as Martha and the Vandellas on the Gordy subsidiary) is often credited as being the beginning of "The Motown Sound".
Ronnie White, a member of the Miracles, arranged for an audition for an eleven year old, blind singer named Stevland Morris. Gordy was impressed with his talent, and said the boy was a "wonder". Signed to a Motown contract, Morris, renamed "Little Stevie Wonder," had a live recording from the Regal theater in Chicago released titled "Fingertips, Part 2" which reached the #1 spot on the pop charts in 1963. [An interesting thing happens on the record near the end, when a band member yells out "What key, what key?" The band backing Stevie thought he was finished and left the stage, and a second band was taking their place, when Stevie, responding to the audience applause, came back out for a short reprise. As he started playing his harmonica, the new band members didn't know what key the song was in, so in desperation yelled out for it.] The album containing "Fingertips, Part 2" [Tamla 240] titled 12 Year Old Genius became the first Motown album to reach the number 1 spot on the pop album charts.
Berry Gordy formed a jazz subsidiary called Workshop Jazz in 1962. The formation of the label was not because Berry thought he could sell many jazz records; the failure of his 3-D Record Mart had shown him that. He established the label in order to convince the most talented jazz musicians in Detroit to play on his pop music sessions, and Berry enticed them with promises of album releases on the Workshop Jazz label. Gordy knew that even the most successful jazz album sales would be minuscule compared to the numbers he could generate in the popular music field. But Berry kept his promise to the musicians, and the 11 albums released on the label are some of the rarest albums on any Motown label.
In 1963, Berry met a group that had released their first single in 1954 when they were called the Four Aims. By 1956, when they released a single on Chess, the group had changed its name to the Four Tops. Initially, Gordy was going to record them on his Workshop Jazz subsidiary, and an album was prepared for that label. This album has been the subject of much speculation over the years. Titled Breaking Though with the Four Tops, it is pictured on an early Motown inner sleeve. Whether the album was ever released is subject to debate; if it was, it would certainly be the most valuable Motown collectable in existence. The Four Tops were quickly switched to the Motown label and turned over to Holland-Dozier-Holland for production. "Baby I Need Your Loving" in August 1964 became their first chart hit. Any thought of more jazz recordings died with the success of that record.
Gordy had established the foundation for the success of Motown for many years to come. With the Miracles, Four Tops, Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, Supremes (still hitless to this point) and the Temptations, he had 6 of the best vocal groups on record. Added to these groups were solo singers Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Mary Wells. With himself, Mickey Stevenson, Smokey Robinson, and Holland-Dozier-Holland, he had proven songwriters and producers who knew how to make popular record hits.
No story about Motown would be complete without talking about the Funk Brothers. They were the core of backing musicians that played on almost every Motown recording in the 1960s. The bass player was the incomparable James Jamerson. The drummer was Benny (Papa Zita) Benjamin, who was so good that Motown had to use two drummers (Richard "Pistol" Allen and Uriel Jones) to replace him when he died in 1968 of a stroke. Allen and Jones had been with Motown for some time, and in fact on some songs (Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" for example), all three can be heard. The core members of the Funk Brothers were about a dozen musicians: Benjamin, Jamerson, Allen, Jones, guitarist Robert White, keyboardist Earl Van Dyke, trombonist Paul Riser, guitarist Eddie Willis, bandleader Joe Hunter, guitarist Joe Messina, percussionist Jack Ashford, vibraphonist Jack Brokensha, percussionist Eddie (Bongo) Brown, and keyboardist Johnny Griffith. In the early '60s, Gordy paid each of them between twenty five and fifty thousand dollars a year to keep them at the company; they were Motown's "most valuable players" and the foundation of the distinctive Motown sound.
For many years, Smokey Robinson was the only artist that Gordy would allow to produce his own work. Although it certainly wasn't a hard and fast rule, in general Berry assigned specific artists to specific producers. Smokey produced Mary Wells, the Temptations and the Miracles. Holland-Dozier-Holland produced the Four Tops and the Supremes. Mickey Stevenson produced Marvin Gaye and the Marvelettes. Clarence Paul produced Stevie Wonder. Martha and the Vandellas were produced by both Mickey Stevenson and Holland-Dozier-Holland. Other Motown producers included Henry Cosby, Harvey Fuqua, Joe Hunter, Earl Van Dyke, and Johnny Griffith. Berry also produced many of his artists on occasion. In 1963, Motown had 6 records in the top 10, "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" and "Mickey's Monkey" by the Miracles, "Pride and Joy" by Marvin Gaye, "Fingertips Part 2" by Stevie Wonder, and "Heat Wave" and "Quicksand" by Martha and the Vandellas .
Technically, Motown progressed through the years by putting new equipment in the hands of the engineers and producers. Until late 1964, masters were recorded on three tracks. Track one was for basic rhythm, track two the "sweetening" (strings, brass, etc.), and track three was for the vocals, which were overdubbed after the instrumental parts had been recorded to everyone's satisfaction. Mixdowns, whether mono or stereo, were done by the engineers, with the producers having little input at this point.
In autumn, 1964, Motown progressed to eight tracks, using a machine designed and built in-house by Motown's Head of Engineering, Mike McLean. There were other 8-track machines in existence (notably at Atlantic and RCA in New York), but the industry standard at that time was 4-track — and in England, the standard was still mono! By early 1965, there was a definite increase in sophistication of the Motown sound. It was possibly this new capability that led to the re-recording of some of the early hits for the Motown collections that began appearing in stereo in 1965 and 1966.
The Supremes were unsuccessful with their first six singles (actually, "Let Me Go the Right Way" had reached #26 on the R&B charts, but only #90 pop, and Gordy had much higher expectations for the group). These six early singles were produced by either Berry Gordy or Smokey Robinson. In late 1963, the group was given over to Holland-Dozier-Holland, and they produced their seventh single, "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" which reached a respectable #23 on the pop charts while making #2 R&B. Their follow-up song, "Run Run Run" flopped, but in July 1964, they began a run of five consecutive #1 pop hits, "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," and "Back In My Arms Again." Based on record sales, the Supremes went on to become the third largest selling artists in recording history, behind the Beatles and Elvis Presley.
In 1964, Smokey Robinson produced "My Guy" by Mary Wells, which also went to #1. Motown reached the #2 spot with the Holland-Dozier-Holland produced "Dancing in the Street" by Martha and the Vandellas. The label certainly deserved the title painted on the front of their headquarters at 2648 West Grand Blvd., "Hitsville, U.S.A., The Motown Sound, The Sound of Young America". Berry Gordy formed two more subsidiary labels in 1964, Soul and V.I.P.
The hits just kept coming in 1965, with five #1 hits: the Smokey Robinson produced "My Girl" by the Temptations, the Holland-Dozier-Holland produced "Stop! In the Name of Love", "Back in My Arms Again" and "I Hear a Symphony" by the Supremes, and "I Can't Help Myself" by the Four Tops. Motown had six other releases reach the top 10. In 1965, saxophonist Junior Walker and the All Stars had the first hit on the new Soul label, the top-ten "Shotgun".
In 1966, Motown signed Gladys Knight and the Pips, a group from Atlanta, Georgia, to the Soul label. It was a journeyman group that had hit in 1961 with "Every Beat of My Heart" on the Vee Jay and Fury labels. They were assigned to a young producer named Norman Whitfield. He had recorded Marvin Gaye on a song that Whitfield and Barrett Strong had written called "I Heard It Through the Grapevine." When Berry Gordy refused to release the Marvin Gaye version of the song, Whitfield recorded it with Gladys Knight and the Pips, and the song went to #2. Gladys Knight and the Pips stayed with Motown for seven years, and had a few more hits. (Their biggest hit came after leaving Motown, when they reached #1 with "Midnight Train to Georgia" on the Buddah label.) When the Marvin Gaye version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" was finally released on an album in 1968, the Whitfield-produced song immediately got airplay, forcing its release as a single. The song went all the way to #1, and today is remembered as the definitive version of a classic song.
For 1966, Motown produced 14 songs that reached the Top 10, with "You Can't Hurry Love" and "You Keep Me Hanging On" by the Supremes and "Reach Out I'll Be There" by the Four Tops reaching #1. That year, Gordy signed the Isley Brothers to Tamla. The brothers had hit with "Shout" on RCA and "Twist and Shout" on Wand in 1959 and 1962, respectively, but had been largely unsuccessful on the charts otherwise. Their biggest hit for Motown was the H-D-H produced "This Old Heart (Is Weak for You)" in 1966, but their future superstar success some years later came after they established their own record label, T-Neck.
Also in 1966, Norman Whitfield took over production responsibilities for the Temptations from Smokey Robinson. His first production for the Temptations was "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," which he co-wrote with Eddie Holland. Eddie and Norman continued to write a string of hits for the Temps, including "Beauty is Only Skin Deep", "(I Know) I'm Losing You", and "(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need". He teamed with Roger Penzabene for the Temptations next hit, "I Wish It Would Rain". In mid-1968, Dennis Edwards replaced David Ruffin as the lead singer for the Temptations. When Whitfield teamed with Barrett Strong to write for the Temptations, the result was a new sound for Motown called "Psychedelic Soul". "Cloud Nine" was just the first of several Whitfield-Strong compositions to go Top 10, including "Run Away Child, Running Wild", the #1 hit "I Can't Get Next To You," "Psychedelic Shack," and Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)."
In 1967, thirteen Motown singles reached the Top 10 charts; "Love is Here and Now You're Gone" and "The Happening" by the Supremes reached #1. Motown had five major labels active: Motown, Tamla, Gordy, Soul, and V.I.P. In a move that would have tremendous significance for the future of Motown, Berry Gordy purchased a home in Los Angeles, California in 1967.
In 1968, Motown had 10 singles in the Top 10, with "Love Child" by Diana Ross and the Supremes and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye reaching #1. Berry Gordy moved into his new home in Los Angeles, and the Motown Los Angeles branch offices were expanded. A tremendous loss for Motown occurred about that time, when arguably the most successful producers in history, Holland, Dozier, and Holland, left the company. The three were perhaps the only producers other than Phil Spector to become as big a name as the artists they recorded. The Holland-Dozier-Holland team was forced into inactivity from 1968 to 1970 due to lawsuits concerning their departure from Motown. They established two labels in 1970, Hot Wax and Invictus, and had moderate success with acts such as Chairmen of the Board, Flaming Ember, Freda Payne, and others, but they didn't establish the kind of hit-after-hit success they had enjoyed at Motown.
In its tenth year of operation, 1969, Motown continued to roll along. Bobby Taylor (lead singer with a group called the Vancouvers) brought a family singing group from Gary, Indiana, to Berry Gordy's attention. The Jackson 5 were signed to Motown and 4 of their first six singles released between late 1969 and mid 1971 went to #1 on the pop charts, with the two that missed the #1 spot reaching #2. In order to prevent the creation of new superstar producers, like Holland-Dozier-Holland, Gordy credited writing and production on Jackson 5 records to "The Corporation", which was a team consisting of Berry Gordy, Freddie Perren, Deke Richards and Fonzie Mizell. For 1969, Motown had 12 singles in the Top 10, with "I Can't Get Next to You" by the Temptations, "Someday We'll Be Together" by Diana Ross and the Supremes and "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5 reaching #1. Also in 1969, Motown established the Rare Earth label to issue white psychedelic rock music and other alternatives to R&B. The label was handled by the West Coast offices of Motown. Rare Earth (the label) was named for the first group signed to the label, a Detroit group originally formed in 1961 as the Sunliners. Their first album contained a twenty-minute-plus version of the Temptations' hit, "Get Ready." The Rare Earth label was also used for material leased from EMI in England, including the Pretty Things and Love Sculpture. The Rare Earth label was not too successful, but it limped along until 1976. In 1969, Motown acquired the distribution rights to the Chisa Label which was founded by Hugh Masekela and Stewart Levine.
In 1970, six of the 14 Motown singles that reached the Top 10 went to #1. They were "ABC" and "The Love You Save" by the Jackson 5, "War" one of the more politically topical songs that were beginning to appear on Motown by Edwin Star, "The Tears of a Clown" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Diana Ross, now without the Supremes. The final performance of Diana Ross and the Supremes occurred at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, which was recorded and issued as an album. Jean Terrell replaced Diana Ross as lead singer of the Supremes. Motown became more cognizant of its roots by establishing a new subsidiary label called Black Forum in 1970, releasing spoken word records by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael and black poets Langston Hughes and Margaret Danner. The label was active until 1973.
In 1971, Motown has 11 singles reach the Top 10 with "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" by the Temptations reaching the #1 spot. During this year, Motown moved increasingly into TV production, producing Diana! a television special with Diana Ross, and Goin' Back to Indiana, a Jackson 5 special. A cartoon series about the Jackson 5 also started in 1971. A new subsidiary was established called Mowest and the first release was "What the World Needs Now Is Love/Abraham, Martin, and John" a sweet-sounding medley interspersed with jarring recordings drawn from politically relevant topics such as war and assassination put together by Los Angeles deejay Tom Clay. The Mowest label was controlled by the west coast office of Motown and was used for talent developed by that office.
By 1971, Marvin Gaye had been given creative control of his recordings, in that year he made an album titled What's Going On [Tamla 310], for which he wrote, produced, sang and played piano. At first, Gordy did not want to release the album, feeling that the album's hard-hitting, socially critical lyrics on songs like "Inner City Blues" would offend traditional Motown fans. Only after Gaye threatened to never make another record for Motown did Gordy relent and release the album. It is often acknowledged as one of the greatest albums ever made. What's Going On sold over a million copies and spawned three R&B number one hits, "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)", "What's Going On" and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)". All three songs also made the popular music Top 10 lists. The music on the album is spacey, spiritual and soulful, totally different than any album ever released on Motown until then. With What's Goin' On, Gaye had moved Motown music to a whole new level, and also made album sales a significant factor to a company that had always chased the hit single.
1972 was somewhat of a down year for Motown, with only 4 singles reaching the pop Top 10. Two of them, however, did go to #1: "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" by the Temptations and "Ben" by Michael Jackson. Stevie Wonder, who by 1970 had been granted complete artistic freedom to produce his own albums, produced Talking Book [Tamla 319] in 1972, when he toured with the Rolling Stones as their opening act. Diana Ross began her film career with Lady Sings the Blues, receiving an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Billie Holiday.
As the Los Angeles offices continued to grow and the Detroit headquarters shrank, a company newsletter in March, 1972, stated, "There are no plans at present to phase out the Detroit operations, as many rumors suggest". In June, Motown announced that it was closing its Detroit offices and moving its headquarters to Los Angeles. While the move probably made sense because of the increasing emphasis Berry Gordy was putting into making movies and television shows, many Motown fans believe the company's heart and soul was lost when it abandoned Detroit, that its most creative days were the 13 years from 1959 to 1972.
In 1973, Berry Gordy resigned as President of Motown Records to become Chairman of the Board of Motown Industries, which included the record, motion picture, television and publishing divisions. Ewart Abner II, a Motown Vice President for six years (and former exec with Vee-Jay) became President of Motown Records. Motown had five #1 pop singles in the year, including, "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye, "Keep on Truckin'" by Eddie Kendricks, "Touch Me In the Morning" by Diana Ross and "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder. Wonder's new album, called Innervisions [Tamla 326], was released and won five Grammy awards.
In 1974, only four Motown singles reached the Top 10 and only Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothin'" reached the #1 spot. Wonder's new album titled Fulfillingness' First Finale [Tamla 332], became the #1 album within three weeks of its release and also won five Grammys. Motown formed a country subsidiary label called Melodyland and signed T.G. Sheppard, Pat Boone, Dorsey Burnette and Ronnie Dove among others. A legal dispute over the label name arose in 1976 and the name was changed to Hitsville. The Hitsville label folded in 1977. A new group, the Commodores, had their first album released, titled Machine Gun. It went gold in five countries. In retrospect, the title track, an instrumental, was quite uncharacteristic of the smooth ballads featuring the voice of Lionel Richie that later became the groups' mainstays. The Commodores went on to become Motown's best selling act during the 1970s. For the period of 1974 to 1980, they averaged two million album sales per year.
1975 was another low point in Motown history, as only one Motown release "Boogie On Reggae Woman" by Stevie Wonder made the Top 10. The Jackson 5 left Motown for Epic records; actually the Jackson 4 went to Epic as "The Jacksons" and Jermaine, who had married Berry Gordy's daughter, stayed with Motown. Ewart Abner II resigned as President of Motown Records and Berry Gordy temporarily replaced him. Barney Ales, a former Vice President of the company, who had stayed in Detroit when the company moved to Los Angeles, rejoined the company when Motown purchased his Prodigal Label. During the year, Diana Ross starred in her second movie, Mahogany but it was certainly not as well received as Lady Sings the Blues.
In 1976, the fortunes of the company rebounded with six Motown releases reaching the Top 10, including two hits by the Commodores. Three of the companies releases reached #1, including "Love Hangover" and "Do You Know Where You're Going To" by Diana Ross and "Love Machine (Part 1)" by the Miracles. Stevie Wonder released his Songs In the Key of Life album, which entered the pop charts at #1. He picked up four more Grammys for the album. Berry Gordy and Mike Curb formed a new country label named MC, which inherited many of the same artists that were on Melodyland/Hitsville, but the new label achieved little success.
In 1977, Motown had three #1 pop hits, "Sir Duke" and "I Wish" by Stevie Wonder, and "Got to Give It Up (Part 1)" by Marvin Gaye, the latter one of the most infectious dance songs of all time. Two more singles by the Commodores also made the Top 10 that year. The next year, about the only single chart action for Motown was by the Commodores, who had the hit "Three Times a Lady." Their albums continued to sell in record numbers. Rick James was signed to the Gordy label and his first album Come and Get It [Gordy 981] eventually went on to sell 2 million copies. James' breakthrough album was 1981's Street Songs [Gordy 1002], which sold over three million copies. Motown Pictures produced The Wiz starring Diana Ross in 1978. In 1979, the Commodores "Still" was the only #1 pop hit for the year, and the group also had half the Top 10 singles with "Sail On". "Send One Your Love" by Stevie Wonder also reached the Top 10 in 1979.
During the 1980's, Motown continued to sell massive numbers of albums, culminating with Lionel Richie's 1984 Can't Slow Down [Motown 6059], which became the largest selling album in the company's history when it sold 10 million copies worldwide. In 1982, Motown went to a consolidated numbering system for all albums released on the three remaining active labels, Motown, Gordy and Tamla, starting with Motown 6000ML by Bettye Lavette. In addition to the 3 major labels, Motown also released albums in the 6000 series on the Latino label, which was Motown's attempt at a Hispanic label, and Morocco, which stood for Motown Rock Company.
In June 1988, Berry Gordy sold Motown Records to a partnership between MCA and Boston Ventures, with Gordy retaining the ownership of the Jobete Publishing catalog. Berry Gordy was always the consummate businessman. As good as he was as a judge of talent and hit songs, he was most of all an entrepreneur who transformed a $800 loan into the largest black owned business in United States history. In 1976, he pretty much summed it up when he said, "I earned 367 million dollars in 16 years. I must be doing something right"!
Even though Motown sold millions more albums during the 1970s and 1980s then it had in the 1960s, Motown will always be remembered for the music it created during the 1960s that was heard on the tinny radios in automobiles as teenagers cruised the streets and highways. Never in history has one company produced so many top ten hits as Motown did during that marvelous decade. Today's commercials and movies are testimony to the great Motown songs of the '60s which are heard more than ever before.