motown groups


Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Ooo Baby Baby (1965)

When I was in sixth grade, my class put on a musical about the American Revolution. To be honest, I still think it was hilarious. There was a “Taxation Tango,” a song about John Hancock signing everything he can get his hands on, and a song about Paul Revere going on his midnight ride only to keep returning because he forgot something, including his pants and his horse.

But I really, really, really wanted the role of King George III. Partly because he was the baddie, partly because he got to use an accent, and partly because he had a killer disco song called “It’s Great to Be an Empire.” And partly because at the time, I was in my Voldemort phase and going by the name “Giorge” to differentiate myself from all of the Megans.

But the teacher gave the role to a boy. You know who you are.

Now, I did get to be in a Motown girl group trio of singing narrators, and I believe I also appeared as John Jay hosting a home shopping network show, but I still hold a grudge.

So what I’m saying here is, I will never forgive humanity until I get to play King George III in Hamilton.


On this day in music history: March 17, 1973 - “Neither One Of Us (Wants To The First To Say Goodbye)” by Gladys Knight & The Pips hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 4 weeks, also peaking at #2 for 2 weeks on April 7, 1973. Written by Jim Weatherly, it is the third R&B chart topper for the veteran vocal quartet from Atlanta, GA. Penned by songwriter Jim Weatherly (“Midnight Train To Georgia”, “The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me”), it is the first single and title track to Gladys Knight & The Pips’ final album on Motown’s Soul Records subsidiary. Signed to Motown since 1966, the group score a successful string of top 40 R&B and pop hits. In spite of this, they feel that they are not given the same attention and promotional support that many of the labels Detroit born acts are afforded, feeling like outsiders in the often “clannish” atmosphere around the label. So when Buddah Records comes calling in early 1973, just as their Motown contract is expiring, they seize the opportunity and sign with them. Released as a single in December of 1972, “Neither One Of Us” quickly becomes a smash on the R&B and pop singles chart. When Gladys Knight & The Pips version is entering the charts in January of 1973, country singer Bob Luman’s cover of the song is charting concurrently on the Billboard Country singles chart, peaking at #7 on April 7, 1973. The single wins the group their first Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group in 1974. They also win the Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or A Group Grammy the same year for “Midnight Train To Georgia”.


Baldwin Hills Elementary Motown Revue

A group of kids at Baldwin Hills Elementary School in Los Angeles put on a Motown Revue last year complete with incredible costumes and choreography. Here’s “Dancing in the Street” which served as the finale, but I urge you to watch all of them:

Stevie Wonder - Uptight

Jackson 5 - I Want You Back

The Temptations - My Girl

Martha & The Vandellas - Heatwave

Mary Wells - My Guy

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell - Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

The Temptations - Ain’t Too Proud To Beg


On this day in music history: March 22, 1969 - “Runaway Child, Running Wild” by The Temptations hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #6 on the Hot 100 on March 29, 1969. Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it is the eighth chart topper for the legendary Motown vocal group. With producer Norman Whitfield reinventing The Temptations sound with the single “Cloud Nine” in late 1968, he and songwriting partner Barrett Strong write more material for the groups next album. While reading the newspaper one day, Strong sees an article about child runaways. Telling Whitfield about the article, the songs narrative tells the story of a young boy who runs away from home after being punished for being truant from school. The boy ends up on the streets alone, frightened and unable to find his way back home. Titling it “Runaway Child, Running Wild”, the track is recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit on October 31, 1968 with members of The Funk Brothers including James Jamerson (bass), Earl Van Dyke (organ), Kenneth “Spider Webb” Rice (drums), Jack Ashford and Eddie “Bongo” Brown (percussion) and Joe Messina (guitar). As he had on “Cloud Nine”, guitarist Dennis Coffey (“Scorpio”, “Theme From Black Belt Jones”) also plays guitar on the track, using a wah wah pedal during the songs intro and throughout. The Temptations with all five members taking a turn at singing lead, record their vocals on December 16, 1968. Clocking in at over nine and a half minutes, “Runaway Child” is sliced virtually in half for single release when it issued on January 30, 1969. At nearly five minutes edited, DJ’s are not deterred by its length in the least, and begin playing it immediately. The full uncut version is included on The Temptations’ “Cloud Nine” released three weeks after the single. FM underground rock stations and many R&B stations will play the long version, driven by listener requests. One of the pillars of The Tempts’ “psychedelic soul” era, it becomes one the groups most popular songs.  An alternate instrumental version of the song by The Funk Brothers is featured on the “20th Century Masters - The Best Of The Funk Brothers: Millennium Collection” compilation in 2004. “Runaway Child, Running Wild” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

Just as it seems that sales of ‘Thriller’ are about to slow down, over forty-seven million Americans watch Michael moonwalk across the stage during his first ever solo performance of 'Billie Jean’ at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium when NBC broadcast the two hour TV special, 'Motown 25: Yesterday,Today, Forever.’ It reunites many former Motown groups including The Jackson 5. Michael joins his brothers in a medley of their early hits. They then depart, leaving the stage to Michael for four spellbinding minutes of inspired song and dance. His performance of 'Billie Jean’ is entertainment at its most powerful and show cases his first ever public performance of the moonwalk.
The next day he is congratulated by Fred Astaire who says, “You’re a hell of a mover. Man you really put them on their asses last night. You’re an angry dancer. I’m the same way. I used to do the same thing with my cane… You’re a hell of a mover!”

Michael’s electrifying performance remains in the minds of fans and non-fans alike as sales of the album soar again the very next day. The enormity of Michael’s talent and originality becomes apparent when he discloses that on the evening prior to the show, he had no idea what he was going to do. He relates how he went to the kitchen and played the song loudly. Michael says, “I pretty much stood there and let the song tell me what to do. I kind of let the dance create itself. I really let it talk to me.”
Michael also acknowledges that three kids taught him the basics of the now legendary moonwalk, to which he added other steps before performing it on the 'Motown 25’ show.


On this day in music history: December 2, 1972 - “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 1 week, also peaking at #2 on the R&B singles chart on the same date. Written and produced by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, it is the fourth and final number one pop single for the veteran Motown vocal group. The song is originally recorded by The Undisputed Truth (“Smiling Faces Sometimes”) in 1971 with their version peaking at #24 on the R&B singles chart and #63 on the Hot 100. When The Temptations hear the track for the first time, initially they are unhappy with the songs’ extended intro (the first vocal doesn’t begin until nearly four minutes into the LP version and nearly two minutes into the single version). The opening lyric (“It Was the third of September, that day I’ll always remember, yes I will. ‘Cause that was the day, that my daddy died.”) will also be particularly upsetting to lead singer Dennis Edwards. Though Edwards father died on the third of October (not the third of September as was the often repeated legend), it will still hit a little too close to home. Ever the hard driving perfectionist in the studio, Whitfield has the group recut their vocals numerous times much to their annoyance, though it will result in the performance captured on the finished record. The twelve minute long album track is edited down to just under seven minutes for single release. In spite of its length, the record is an across the board smash. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” wins three Grammy Awards including Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group, Best R&B Instrumental Performance, and Best R&B Song in 1973. “Papa” is covered numerous times over the years including a version by musician Bill Wolfer in 1982 that features Michael Jackson on background vocals. George Michael also perform the song as part of a medley with Adamski and Seal’s song “Killer” in 1992 at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and released on the EP “Five Live”. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.