Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Trying to Find Motown Vinyl in Motown City

So to celebrate Record Store Day I thought I'd tell you about Detroit, Motown and trying to find it on vinyl. You'd think living just outside the birthplace of Motown it'd be easy to find original Motown records - think again. Since moving to metro Detroit I've been listening to a lot of Motown and I have ambitions of building up my vinyl Motown collection but it isn't occurring that easy.

Motown Record Corp. was set up in Detroit in 1959 - it was a mash up of two ideas - motor and town - this is the Motorcity after all and Motown itself has become a nickname for Detroit. The Motown Sound is considering to be influential by being able to somewhat cross the racial divide and it's role in the social intergration of the 1960's. In fact Motown as a the record company was black owned and a black centered business. It even brought out the first girl groups. Across the next 12 years, Motown Records achieved an incredible 110 top 10 records with bands such as The Supremes*, The Temptations*, Stevie Wonder*, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson Five and The Marvelettes* (who sang Please Mr Postman)* to The Detroit Spinners* (all stared acts are from Detroit/Michigan). 

From left to right working clockwise - the Jackson 5, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Marvellets. 

In fact Motown is even defined as a sound. While producers believed in keeping it simple, the trademark sound of Motown is recognised through tambourines and hand clapping assisting the back beat and even often using two drummers - through overdubbing or playing together. The gospel "call and respond" form of singing and distinctive melodies became the sound. By 1971 Motown had left Detroit for LA, the 1967 race riots in the city didn't help. The Motown museum still exists in the city - based in the building which was formally a record studio for the label. Considering the music is over 50 years old, it certainly doesn't sound it's age.

So why is it so hard to find Motown records just a couple of miles away from the city of it's birth? Sadly it comes down to race. The race riots I just mentioned caused white migration (to use it's proper social term "white flight") out of the Detroit and while Motown helped with some racial integration, it could only go some way. As many of the estate sales (although we do head into the city when we get the chance) are in the suburbs unfortunately many of these people may have been fleeing from the perceived threats of riots and the black population, so to be hoping for black music is perhaps asking too much of an era of inequality. It's sad, but true and even today racism is strongly apparent in many places.

It's rare but an amazing find when we do come across Motown vinyl, we've managed to score some from Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Temptations and The Commodores (when Lionel Richie was still a member and all). But considering we've been buying and collecting vinyl since last September it's hard going. Granted we could buy them at record stores, but for us part of the fun is in the chase and to understand and appreciate Motown is to know the social issues surrounding it, particularly in the city which it was born out of.

Do you love Motown? 


  1. I love listening to Diana Ross when she comes on the radio! I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for the Motown records!!

  2. Loved this post! There's nothing like a bit of Motown. I am very jealous of your vinyl collection too xx