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November 12, 1978 - Image 11

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1978-11-12
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Page 8-Sunday, November 12, 1978--The Michigan Daily

I

motown

I

(Continued from Page 3)
ptations, the young Stevie Wonder, and
the Four Tops, with their dynamic dan-
ce routines and such hits as "Baby I
Need Your Loving" (1964) and "I Can't
Help Myself" (1965).
At the pinnacle of this wave the
Miracles and the Supremes rose- high
above their contemporaries.
Dominated by the warm, disciplined
singing of Smokey Robinson, the
Miracles had a spurt of ballad hits
throughout the 60s. Although their up-
tempo songs, such as "Going to a Go-
go" and "Mickey's Monkey" were fine,
the group's forte was slow tunes.
Weaving in and out of the Miracle's
dense and shifting harmonies, Robin-
son's falsetto could transform the most
simple set of lyrics into a complex
emotional statement.
IN CONTRAST to Robinson's sad ro-
mantic image, the Supremes had a
less defined, mass-appeal image. They
had received the benefit of everything
Motown could give: Gordy had taken
the trio of Detroit high school students
living in the Brewster housing project,
put them through his special charm
school, and came out with three worldly
glamor queens capable of singing of
seduction and sadness. On the road, the
Supremes were forbidden to date, and
Gordy had provided each of them with a
large diamond ring to keep suitors
away. "Someone saw mine the other
week," Supreme Mary Wilson once
said, "He said, 'Oh, you're engaged.' I.
said, 'Yeah, to Motown.' "
The Supremes appeared on television
specials, and toured Europe and Japan.
FErom 1964 to 1967, they put out 15
singles; 14 of which made the top ten
and ten of which reached the Number
One slot.
"We're trying to make as much
money as we can. But we're in for more
than that," Berry Gordy explained on-
ce. "We're interested in being happy. If
you're not happy, it's all for nothing."
"Berry Gordy always wanted perfec-
tion, and was interested in the total
career of the artist, as opposed to just
putting out records," said Edwards.

"He said there were three things he
looked for in an artist: they had to have
talent, great talent first. Secondly, they
must have good character. And third,
they must want to be a superstar."
Soon, Motown, which now encom-
passed the Soul, V.I.P., and Rare Earth
labels, literally was beseiged by artists.
People wishing for an audition would
call the Motown switchboard and sing.
Many acts would camp out on the door-
steps of executives' homes in hopes of
landing contracts. To handle this in-
credible influx of talent, Gordy in-
stituted a series of local auditions, ,held
on the first Saturday of each month.
For years, the company also sent out
massive touring shows, called the
"Motown Revue," that served as both
concerts and training for the perfor- -
mers. "In order to further the artist's
development, to teach the artists how to
get on stage and get off, how to bow,
and how to communicate with the
audience, Motown packaged a show in
1962," explained Edwards.
"Our big artists then, like Mary Wells
and Smokey Robinson would headline
the show, but there would be four or five
other acts in the package. The show
would be booked around the country, in
theaters like the Apollo in New York,
and the Regal Theater in Chicago. They
would be there for a week or ten days.
Right here in Detroit they would be at
the Fox theater every Christmas to
New Year's Eve, so they could be at
home with their families."
By 1967, Motown had to make room
for numerous developments in pop
music: "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely
Heart's Club Band" had been released
and the burgeoning San Francisco
sound was emerging as was the soul
music boom.
Faced with these new challenges,
Motown kept producing the same
production-line songs. Smokey Robin-
son ("I Second That Emotion"), Stevie .
Wonder ("I Was Made to Love Her"),
The Supremes ("Reflections"), and
Gladys Knight and the Pips ("I Heard it
Through the Grapevine") all hit high on
the charts - but it seemed that Motown
was giving ground away, that

something was happening in music that
Berry Gordy couldn't apply to.his cabal
of artists, and worse, wasn't even
aware of.
P"OET LEROI Jones once interpret-
ed Martha Reeves and the Van-
della's "Dancing in the Streets" as a
revolutionary call to action; in 1967,
both blacks and whites looted and
fought in the streets of downtown
Detroit, little more than a mile from the
Motown studios.
Of course, the downfall of Motown,
and its move to Los Angeles, was con-
tingent on many factors - perhaps the
best perspective on Motown's collapse
would be one of overall social change in
the 60s - but as a Detroit-based com-
pany with strong ties to the city, linking
the changes to the 1967 riot seems ap-
propos.
The complexion of the sound of young
America changed overnight. Gone
was much of the simple optimism, and
tossed out as excess baggage was the
happy triteness. The Temptations soon
came out with songs about drugs. Their
"Runaway Child, Running Wild" was a
stern admonishment to urban youths
about the dangers about being on one's
own.
The years following the series of riots
that swept America and left a scar in
Motown's backyard, were in many
ways the most interesting and creative
times for the company. Some artists
flocked to Motown to "get relevant,"
and Gordy tried to capitalize on what
could be construed as a trend. Some ar-
tists produced smashing, riveting
works. The Temptations released songs
like "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," and
"Superstar."
After 1967, Stevie Wonder and Marvin
Gaye produced a body of strongly
relevant music - but only after
negotiating with Gordy to have total
control over the music they put out.
And in 1969, Gordy -moved out of
Detroit.
"People say, 'Why didn't he stay,
why didn't he grow and develop new
talent?' But no business does that.
Henry Ford didn't stay in that little
shop creating new gadgets. That's in-
sane."
All around, there was a new sound in
black music. Sly Stone for several
years had been defining racial tensions
Motown could only, deal with
peripherally. Artists as diverse as Otis
Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and Wilson
Pickett and Aretha Franklin-two
transplanted Detroiters living in the
South - were overcoming those ten-
sions by creating the musical
equivalents of riots.
But Motown didn't, or wouldn't, catch
on. Yet before it swam away into the
nondescript mainstream in which Mot-
town is entrenched to this day, it signed
a group that provided Gordy and his
conglomerate with a final, shimmering
capstone to their legacy.

Discovered in a Gary, Indiana club
by Diana Ross, they wallowed in as
much goopy sentimentality as any
Motown group ever had. They were
frivolous, fun and madly danceable.
Boasting an exciting and surprising
singer, only 13 years old, the Jackson
Five may well have been the greatest of
all the Motown acts.
Besides erasing racial lines, the quin-
tet of brothers breached all age
barriers. For a time, they hosted a
Saturday morning cartoon program
and the Post Cereal Company contrac-
ted with Motown to stamp Jackson Five
singles on the back of cereal boxes. But
the'Jackson Five was not a bubblegum
group. Their songs invariably featured
complex arrangements and the lyrics
were generally several notches above
the Motown standard..Most of all, there
was Michael Jackson. Be it on a tearful
ballad like "I'll Be There" or an all-out
soul-jam like "ABC" he was always in
command and excitingly innovative.
The Jackson Five left Motown in 1975.
And today what is left of Motown? Plen-
ty, to be sure, including several top-
notch hitmakers like the Commodores.
But most of the Detroit-era musicians
left shortly before or after the move to
the coast. Martha Reeves; the Four
Tops, the Holland-Dozier-Holland team
and many others are gone, leaving a
legacy that remains incomplete. The
move west was not so much a migration
of artists as an exodus of the sound. The
times had relinquished the place it once
thrived. Motown's frivolity became
outmoded.' Even its own artists, in-
cluding Marvin Gaye in his "What's
Going On?" questioned Motown's
trivial mentality.
Using a simile that must have been
dittoed off and issued to every
executive from the single office left in
Detroit to Los Angeles, Motown
spokespersons say all the changes are
merely akin to the progression "from a
mom-and-pop store to a supermarket:"
Actually, Motown is more like a shop-
ping center today: anything you want,
Motown has, only you have to wade
through much that you don't need.
Moreover, you can find it easier
somewhere else; generally, from some
mom-and-pop store.
The magic is not all gone. After their
album Natural High turned double-
platinum last summer, 3,000 women
stormed a department store in San
Francisco when they learned the Com-
modores would be signing autographs
there. This is bottled magic, however,
and the formula seems to have been
worn down to lifeless and monolithic
proportions.
But maybe not always. Like Smokey
Robinson crooning about a paradise
"way over there," we can always hope,
provided we can mine both commit-
ment and inspiration from the city, that
there will surface something new. For
cities and recording industries, that's
what "renaissance" is all about.

kennedy

(Continued from Page 7)
Kennedy administration, the vision of
RFK slowly builds, until at the end of
the book, one can almost see RFK
standing front and center, with his
tough exterior and deeply anchored
sensitivity exposed.
Schlesinger describes RFR's increas-
ingly apparent discovery of his "mis-
sion," which was finally coming to-
gether in 'his 1968 presidential cam-
paign. As RFK gets closer to crystaliz-
ing.his ideals, we get closer to RFK and
begin to see the liveliness, gentleness,
and passionate convictions that burned
deep in his breast, and infused him
with a commitment to caring and
change unparalleled by that of any"
contemporary political figure.
RFK was a representative man of the
1960s because of his increasing
awareness of the world's wrongs and
his own potential to right them. In'the
last years of. his life, RFK's
conservative, self-righteous cold war
mentality was tempored by his
experience with the civil rights
movement, the war in Vietnam, and the
poverty in our cities. His outlook and
philosophy evolved into his genuine
concern for America's and the world's
downtrodden and underclass. The
people of the United States may have
also been ever so slowly moving in that
direction. Toward that end, he was able
to unite both ghetto blacks and blue.

collar whites in his impassioned calls
for the formation of a new social fabric
based on both justice and order. The
ultimate tragedy of RFK's murder is
that he was perhaps the only person
capable' of unifying America's
polarized and disparate people-to lead
them towards new politics, based on
domestic equality and foreign
leadership. The abrupt end to the
movement that seized him, and that he
seized, so late in his life is RFK's final
sad legacy.n
Schlesinger's book is a good deal like
the man he writes about. He attempts a
"front" of historical toughness with his
extensive documentation, while in
reality, his book is incredibly
vulnerable to charges of unobjectivity
and unjustified attempts at
exoneration. Yet, despite this tough
front, inside, like Robert Kennedy, the
book is a sensitive account of RFK's
public education about life in America,
and the revelation of his ability to make
his dreams for a "newer world" into a
reality. Kennedy's familiar campaign
cry of "We can do better," which he
carried into his final days, is the
essence of the spirit of his times. Due to
an assassin's bullet we were denied the
final fruits of Kennedy's learning
process. As Schlesinger writes:
"History changed him, and had time
permitted, he might have changed
history.'

sundd mC-itdzife
co-editors

iSie:

Elizabeth Slowik

Sue Warner

Motown: Signed,
sealed and

Books Editor
Brian Blanchard
Cover photo of Ren-Cen
by Andy Freeberg

Food.
A night at the
Chop House

Book
RFK'
'time

delivered

Supplement to The Michigan Daily

Ann Arbor, Michigan-Sunday, November 12, 1978

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