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The Motown Story "You Can Make It If You Try"

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The Motown Story "You Can Make It If You Try". By Simon Frith from The Soul Book (Seymour Lawrence/Delta Books).  Third installment. Copyright 1975 Simon Frith reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Like all successful independent record labels at that time, Tamla-Motown was a magnet for local talent- in its case mostly black Detroit talent which previously hadn't had many outlets. Unlike most independents, Tamla-Motown also had a staff of writers and producers who could give black talent white pop appeal- whether the "girl appeal" of Mary Wells and the Marvelettes, the gospel appeal of Marvin Gaye and the Miracles or the teet-moving appeal of the Contours.

Gordy had satisfied the first drive of his ambition: he had three successful labels of his own as well as distribution deals with other labels, such as Harvey Fuqua's Anna and Harvey. But he was still in the unstable position of all independents: his survival depended on the continuing success of each new single and, despite the past and the talents available, he couldn't be certain of this-Eddie Holland, for example, had scored with only one record, "Jamie," and that had been a minor success. And there were Tamla-Motown releases that had done nothing at all (and are, therefore, lost to history- but how about Mike and the Modifiers' "I Found Myself A Brand New Baby" (1962) or anything from the Valodiers?).

To ensure continuing and permanent success in the pop business Gordy needed to do three things: to lead rather than follow pop taste (Tamla-Motown, despite the number of wondrous records it had already produced, was still essentially jumping on bandwagons- of girl groups, the Twist beat and so on); to find a star (the Motown acts, whatever their number of hits, were still only as successful as their last record); and to establish a musical base outside the singles charts. The crucial years for achieving these ends were 1963 and 1964. (Continued next week) From THE SOUL BOOK edited by lan Hoare. Copyright O 1975 by Simon Frith. Reprinted by permission of Dell Pub., Co.Delta Books Seymour Lawrence Books.