Motown Season, Radio 2
All the hits, and a doo-wop of history too
Sunday 18 January 2009
First it was the Darwin celebrations that had the BBC mobilising its forces; last week it was another anniversary of earth-moving significance: you can scarcely have failed to register the fact that it's half a century since an unemployed ex-boxer named Berry Gordy Jnr borrowed $800 to set up Motown records.
The Beeb certainly hasn't. Apart from bits on the 'Today' programme and 'Woman's Hour', and last Saturday's excellent 'Motorcity Blues', about Motown's birthplace, Detroit, there are two series on the go on Radio 2.
There's 'Hitsville USA: 50 Years of Heart and Soul', a six-part thematically arranged history; and 'The Motown Invasion', a two-parter about the label's considerable impact over here. And last night a one-off, 'The Sound of Young America', examined the inspiration the label has provided for musicians as diverse as Sheryl Crow and Siouxsie Sioux.
Some might feel this is a touch too much Tamla – but only someone with no feel at all for that huge sound could possibly reach such a conclusion. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that it's been the single most influential label in the history of pop. And it wasn't just the music. As Paul Weller said in 'The Sound of Young America', "I got a lot of my politics by osmosis from Motown."
Though the records have provided rocket propulsion for many a love affair, Eddie Holland, of Holland-Dozier-Holland fame, was keen to dispel any romantic notions. The hits factory was just that: a production line. "It was work to me," he said, amiably but firmly. "I don't fall in love with what I do – because once you fall in love with what you do you lose perspective. And my perspective is, 'Is it sellable? Is it appealing?' This is business to me." But what a business.
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