Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of Motown Records.
When I was a little white kid in the suburbs, I wasn't crazy about Motown. I was eight years old in
1963, not much older in the years that followed, and I just didn't get it. The one Motown act I did like was the Four Tops, but how could you not? Levi Stubbs' voice was like a cry in the darkness, and that mournful quality clearly resonated with a depressed pre-adolescent living in an emotionally chaotic home.
Many decades later, I sometimes listen to "Rhythm Revue" on WBGO on Saturdays and realize just how AMAZINGLY GOOD this stuff was. One of the reasons for that was the most unappreciated musicians in the history of popular music, the Funk Brothers. The 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown
gave a detailed look at the band that made the Motown sound what it was. If you've never seen it, you shouldn't miss it.
Listen here to the late Marvin Gaye lip-syncing "Ain't That Peculiar" on one of those now-hilarious old music variety shows and try to tell me that it ISN"T the band that makes this song great:
That's James Jamerson on the bass.
Now check out "Can't Help Myself" with the vocals stripped out:
Sure, the vocals were great. But it's the band that made the sound.