The History of Motown: Year By Year

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    The Motown story has been told — and this is no exaggeration — thousands of times. It is such an important part of this country’s history, and means so much to so many people, that there is always interest in the story.

    However, with so much time having elapsed and so much having been documented, there is a need for different angles along with more detailed (or new) information. David Bianco, a hard-working researcher, came through with a book that provided just that.

    It’s not a new one — far from it — but its unique approach makes “Heat Wave: The Motown Fact Book” a timeless volume, although finding it now is very difficult.

    These are highlights, stopping in 1972 when Motown left — some say abandoned — Detroit.

    1957: The ambitious Berry Gordy Jr. sees the Miracles for the first time, auditioning for the manager of Jackie Wilson. It is Gordy, not the manager, who is impressed.

    1958: As an independent producer and songwriter, Gordy begins recording the Miracles, but the releases are on other labels since he has no company of his own at that point. He does the same for Marv Johnson.

    1959: Berry Gordy Jr. borrows money from his family’s savings fund to start Motown Record Corporation. That is also the year Smokey Robinson of the Miracles marries Claudette Rogers, cousin of another Miracle, Bobby Rogers.

    1960: Motown signs the Marvelettes, five high school girls from Inkster. The Miracles’ “Shop Around” becomes Motown’s first million seller. Gordy also signs the Temptations and Marvin Gaye. Mary Wells has a hit with a song she wrote, “Bye Bye Baby.” The Primettes audition but are told to come back when they have finished high school.

    1961: “Please Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes is Motown’s first No. 1 hit on national Pop charts and the second million seller. The company signs Jimmy Ruffin, as well as the Primettes, renamed the Supremes.

    1962: By this time Mary Wells is Motown’s queen, with hits like “The One Who Really Loves You,” “Two Lovers” and “You Beat Me to the Punch.” The Contours have a smash with the raucous — and now classic — “Do You Love Me?”
    The first Motortown Revue hits the road featuring the Miracles, Mary Wells, the Contours and others.

    1963: The industry starts to really pay attention to this Black owned record company in Detroit that is having one smash hit after another.

    Those hits include “Fingertips (Part II)” (Little Stevie Wonder), “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me” (the Miracles), “Can I Get a Witness?” (Marvin Gaye) and “Heat Wave” (Martha & the Vandellas).

    Motown’s signs an already professional group that is not known for R&B, the Four Tops. The company also acquires Jr. Walker & the All Stars.

    1964: Mary Wells has the biggest hit of her career, “My Guy,” written and produced by Smokey Robinson, like nearly all of her hits. But, shockingly, she leaves Motown in mid-year.

    The Supremes, after many mild hits and one big one (“When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”), finally break through with “Where Did Our Love Go?” written by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland. Many others were to follow, all written by HDH, including “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.”

    Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard make the first of many appearances on the highly prestigious Ed Sullivan show. The Supremes’ unprecedented success opens the Motown floodgates.

    Martha & the Vandellas have a smash with the classic “Dancing in the Street.”

    1965: Everyone seems to be hot: the Temptations (“My Girl”), the Four Tops (“I Can’t Help Myself”), Martha & the Vandellas (“Nowhere to Run”), the Miracles (“The Tracks of My Tears”), the Supremes (“I Hear a Symphony”), etc.

    Brenda Holloway is focused on more following Mary Wells’ departure. She has a big hit with “When I’m Gone,” which was intended to be Wells’ follow-up to “My Guy.” She even does a North American tour with the Beatles.
    The Supremes appear at the ultimate nightclub, the Copacabana in New York City.

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