Great Motown songs have become timeless classics that span music genres. The pop-soul crossover formula created by the record label in the 1960s spawned a long list of hits that have become pop music standards. Although the Motown banner continues to be used to release music under the Universal Motown imprint, the label's heyday was between the 1960s and 1970s.
A list of Motown hits could go on for many pages. It is impossible to overstate the impact Motown has had on pop, soul and R & B music, as well as on the music industry itself. Here are some of the biggest hits from Motown's glory years:
I Heard It Through The Grapevine - Marvin Gaye (1968)
I Want You Back - The Jackson 5 (1969)
Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) - The Temptations (1971)
Just My Imagination was lead singer Eddie Kendrick's last smash hit with the Temptations before starting a solo career.
The Tracks of My Tears - Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (1965)
Where Did Our Love Go - The Supremes (1964)
The Supremes scored their first number one hit with Where Did Our Love Go, which held the top spot for two weeks in 1964.
I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) - The Four Tops (1965)
You Really Got a Hold On Me - Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (1962)
Heat Wave (Your Love Is Like) - Martha and The Vandellas (1963)
Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing - Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (1968)
Baby Love - The Supremes (1964)
Ain't Too Proud To Beg - The Temptations (1966)
My Guy - Mary Wells (1964)
What Becomes of the Brokenhearted - Jimmy Ruffin (1966)
Jimmy Mack - Martha and the Vandellas (1967)
Don't Mess With Bill - The Marvelettes (1966)
My Girl - The Temptations (1964)
Stop! In the Name of Love - The Supremes (1965)
The Supremes enjoyed their fourth number one hit in Stop! In the Name of Love, which was further endeared to the public by the little dance the group did when they performed it.
Reach Out I'll Be There - Four Tops (1966)
The staff of Acclaimed Music ranks Reach Out I'll Be There, the Four Tops' most famous song, number 45 on their list of the greatest songs of all time.
What's Goin' On - Marvin Gaye (1971)
Dancin' in the Street - Martha and the Vandellas (1964)
Superstition - Stevie Wonder (1972)
Stevie Wonder wrote Superstition for Jeff Beck but decided instead to keep it for himself, which turned out to be a great move when the song became a number one hit.
Please Mr. Postman - The Marvelettes (1961)
Do You Love Me - Contours (1962)
Money (That's What I Want) - Barrett Strong (1959)
I Second That Emotion - Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (1967)
I Second That Emotion was a two-time hit for Motown. The first version was recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the second version was recorded as a duet by the Supremes and the Temptations.
Background on Motown
Founded by Berry Gordy in 1960, Motown was actually Gordy's second record label. One year prior, he had founded Tamla Records, which launched the career of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles. Soon after launching Motown, Gordy rolled Tamla into Motown. The label briefly operated as Tamla/Motown, and then simply as Motown.
The Sound of Young America
Motown marketed their signature sound as "The Sound of Young America." Indeed, the label had a huge impact on the cultural landscape of American youth in the 1960s. Motown was the first African-American owned record label with predominantly African-American artists to achieve broad success. The label is credited not only with integrating the music industry but also with inspiring young people to take part in the Civil Rights Movement.
Success Through the Decades
Motown hits ruled the airwaves during the 1960s. Between 1961 and 1971, the label released a whopping 110 Billboard top ten hits. Although Motown consistently enjoyed success in the years that followed, from Diana Ross solo material in the 1970s to the Commodores and Rick James in the 1980s, Boyz II Men and Johnny Gill in the 1990s and Erykah Badu in the 2000s, the label never achieved the same level of success as it had enjoyed during the first decade of its launch.
Berry Gordy got out of the label in the 1980s. Since then, Motown has been bought and sold several times. From 2005 through the present, Universal has owned the Motown name and uses it to release records under Universal Motown.
A Legacy to Be Proud Of
The impact of Motown's highly successful songs on culture and on the development of modern music has been nothing short of tremendous. The rise of Motown in the 1960s coincided with the struggle for civil rights and helped give an entire generation a strong voice in fighting for social equality. The unique Motown sound not only paved the way for the continued success of African-American artists but also demonstrated the sheer power of great music to bring people together.