BitchTapes: Best of Motown

Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

Earlier this week, television stations around the globe clamored to cover Michael Jackson’s memorial service, and tens of millions of us turned on the tube (or the internet) to watch. Now, before you write this post off as another hastily-made MJ mixtape tribute (not that there’d be anything wrong with that), give me a minute.

One of the things that struck a chord with me during the 177-minute, star-studded memorial, was Berry Gordy’s eulogy for Michael. Not only was his reminiscing about the early days of Motown charming (who wouldn’t love that story about the Gordy vs. Jackson family baseball games?) but it reminded me how effing awesome Motown’s music is. (It is seriously awesome.) My other BitchTapes have made no secret of my love of soul music, but this time I am going all-out to present you with eight of my favorite Motown tunes.

The Tracks
1. Ain’t Too Proud to Beg The Temptations
I think this song might have the best intro in recorded music history, and I totally love singing it in the shower (or car, or while I am riding my bike, or whenever). The intensity really captures that feeling of wishing you could change the mind of someone who wants to break up with you and make them love you again.

2. (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
Again, this song brings the intensity when it comes to relationships. Martha Reeves could belt it out like no one else (though I do love the Linda Ronstadt version) and this is a great summer jam for, well, literal heat waves.

3. He Was Really Saying Something The Velvelettes
I love The Velvelettes, and this is one of their best songs. It is so upbeat and fun, and it is a great example of the girl group aesthetic that Berry Gordy cultivated (while apparently acting like a major d-bag) at Motown. I love the line that says Ladylike it may not be/ But he moved me tremendously. Sometimes being ladylike is the last thing on your mind when a cute guy or girl is flirting with you, right?

4. First I Look At The Purse The Contours
Okay, it may not be PC in the least, but this song is charming and hilarious to me. I still think I’m a good lover/ If the dollar bills are crisp? Someone should tell Kanye that men can be serious golddiggers too.

5. You Can’t Hurry Love The Supremes
What Motown mix would be complete with a Supremes song? This is one of my favorites, and even if it’s a little cheesy, it has given me hope on many a heartsick night.

6. The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game The Marvelettes
This is another song so good that its vaguely obsessive, stalkerish message gets obscured by its awesomeness. I have to admit, I like the way The Marvelettes frame themselves as boy hunters in this song: Oh yeah, secretly I’ve been trailin’ you/ Like the fox that preys on the rabbit. Look out!

7. Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You Rita Wright
One of the great things about Motown songs (besides their kickass catchiness) is how real and raw a lot of the emotions are. Rita Wright is not going to pretend for a minute that she’s having an easy post-breakup go of things, and she wants her ex to know it. Her emotions really come through in her jealousy-inducing (in me, anyway) singing voice and style.

8. Who’s Lovin You The Jackson Five
The story behind this song was another MJ memorial highlight for me. When Smokey Robinson gave his eulogy for Michael and talked about how he originally wrote this song and he couldn’t believe a ten-year old boy could sing it better than him, I couldn’t help but agree. “Who’s Lovin You” came up again during the memorial service, when the young Shaheen Jafargholi performed the song as a tribute:

A moving rendition to be sure, but no one can touch the Jackson 5 version in my mind:

So there you have, eight of what I consider to be the best of the best Motown songs. Do you have any favorites that didn’t make this list?

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5 Comments Have Been Posted

Berry Gordy is a douche

While I appreciate Motown Records contributions to soul music, there are many things about the Gordy enterprise that I find highly unnerving. I live in Windsor, which is about a mile away from Detroit, in Canada; I'm a fascinated with this genre and the politics of Detroit during the 60's!

I got my hands on a book late last year called "Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit" and I highly recommend it. Written by Suzanne E. Smith, she chronicles the early beginnings and swift rise of Motown Records alongside race relations in the North. I've also recently seen the documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" which originally came out in 2002. Did you know...

- When Motown Records began they not only sold music, but spoken word records that had speeches and poetry from some of the greatest black speakers of that era. These albums were more often that not, shelved because Gordy worried that they wouldn't make money and he didn't want the Motown label to be considered "controversial" by white folks who felt threatened by civil rights movement.

- Gordy stiffed the greatest songwriting team ever assembled - Holland, Dozer, and Holland - who were responsible for crafting some of the finest music the world has ever heard, and the team took Gordy to court to fight for proper royalties.

- While Gordy is largely credited for creating jobs in Detroit for the black community when Motown was based there, he abruptly moved the offices to LA (so that they could make movies) cutting hundreds of jobs from the community in the process.

- The Funk Brothers, who were largely responsible for creating the "Motown Sound" were never given credit for their compositions either, and if these were taken into account they would have more #1 hits than any other artist on Billboard.

- Motown performers were obligated in the terms of their contracts to go through etiquette training so that they could basically learn how to act "white".

While Motown has an impressive legacy, at what cost what all of this achieved? To that I say Berry Gordy is a douche!


Barry Gordon was a business man. They're not know for giving out cupcakes and smiley face stickers, know what I mean? That's how money is made, as anti-sentimental and inhuman as that seems.

Anyway, great mix of songs here. I'm loving it.

If you want to hear some amazing underground soul music

Here let me recommend you a

Quality Mix

Gotta love the Motown. Good mix and a number of less-popular tunes, which isn't a bad thing.

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