The Good and Bad of Motown Records

by Erika Cox
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Motown was a very popular music recording company that helped many young black music artists start their music careers. Motown was very beneficial to the world of Rock and Roll music. The company produced quality music and contributed to the sounds of Rock and Roll, Pop, and of course, Soul music.

It was also very beneficial to those who signed on with the company enabling them to achieve successful careers. However, Motown seemed to run a cookie cutter factory company. Since many of their artists were young, controlling their sound, style, and talent was easy.

Motown seemed to have complete control over their artists and what type of music and style they promoted. There are those who say Motown taught appropriate behavior and professionalism to poor, inner city youths but that sounds like a stereotype to me.

Why would one think poor, inner city youths need to learn professionalism and appropriate behavior? There were a good deal of young, black artists not signed with Motown that acted "appropriate" and were not subjected to hours of someone teaching them how to look, dress, talk, and walk.

Also, there were many young, both poor and suburban, white music artists who were not "taught" how to act professionally or appropriately. In fact, many times their rebellious and "wild" ways seem to make them all the more attractive or popular in the music business.

Since I was not born until 1967, I did not have personal experiences with all the social issues that were going on during the 1960's and before but I am well aware of them. So, that leads me to believe that race issues were such that black artists had to act a certain way to be accepted in mainstream society and perhaps that is what Berry Gordy, the owner of Motown Records, had to consider and what he was trying to convey.

Mr. Gordy wanted to succeed. He wanted his music recording company to be successful, and to prove that a black man could run a successful business, and prove to mainstream society that black artists knew how to act appropriately and professional. However, it also seemed that he hindered a lot of his artists' natural and individual talent and ability, except for Diana Ross for obvious reasons.

Many of the groups like the Temptations and the Four Tops, all sounded alike, looked alike, and danced in similar ways. Also, the girl groups looked, sounded, and performed in similar ways.

This type of factory producing artist just seemed to take away from the individual talent, which I'm sure most of these artists contained. For example, Florence Ballard had a wonderful voice. Some say her voice was better than Diana Ross's but she was never able to use it, at least not with Motown. Many of the Motown artists eventually became unhappy with the restraints of Motown and left the company.

Marvin Gaye was one of Motown's artists who didn't appreciate the artistic constraints and let Gordy know it. He was one artist at Motown that was able to promote his own sound and style. Other group members eventually left Motown as well, including David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations.

Some artists left because of control issues and others because of financial reasons. The control Motown tried to keep over their groups eventually failed because the artists matured into adulthood and sought greener pastures – less control over their creativity and talent.

However, although Motown had its' issues, like any other recording company, it served a great purpose helping black young artists get into the music business and have a successful career or at least the beginnings of a successful career.

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