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Motown Sound

Music Sound

Motown Sound

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The Motown Sound is a style of soul music with distinctive characteristics, including the use of tambourine along with drums, bass instrumentation, a distinctive melodic and chord structure, and a "call and response" singing style originating in gospel music.

Among the most important architects of The Motown Sound were the members of Motown's in-house team of songwriters and record producers, including Motown founder Berry Gordy, William "Smokey" Robinson, Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong, and the team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland, Jr., collectively known as Holland-Dozier-Holland. Crucial to the sound was the work of Motown's in-house band, The Funk Brothers, who performed the instrumentation on most Motown hits from 1959 to 1972. However, according to Berry Gordy, "the Motown sound is made up of rats, roaches, and love" (Hirshey 1994, p.187).


About the Motown Sound

While there were many hugely popular African American musicians prior to the 1960s, Motown soul was the most consistently chart-topping genre until hip-hop. In contrast to previous genres of black popular music, Motown soul used African-American performers instead of grooming white musicians for crossover fame. It was also among the first genres of African-American popular music to move beyond simple lyricisms into the realm of socio-political topics, allowing for a wide range of African-American viewpoints to be expressed in song.

The Motown Sound was also defined by the use of orchestration, string sections, charted horn sections, carefully arranged harmonies and other more refined pop music production techniques. It was also one of the first styles of pop music of that era wherein girl groups--including The Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas and The Marvelettes--were showcased as an act, as opposed to individual female artists.

The Motown producers and the Funk Brothers band used a number of innovative techniques to develop the Motown Sound. Many tracks featured two drummers instead of one, either overdubbed or playing in unison, and three or four guitar lines as well. Bassist James Jamerson often played his instrument with only his index finger, and created many of the bubbling basslines apparent on Motown songs such as "You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes. While the Funk Brothers had exclusive contracts with Motown, they often secretly recorded instrumental tracks for outside acts, most notably "Cool Jerk" by The Capitols and "Agent Double-O Soul" by Edwin Starr.

The style was also showcased by the work of non-Motown artists, including Dusty Springfield and British band The Foundations. On a side note, Great Britain was also the scene where the Motown Sound (and that of numerous smaller record companies) was kept alive by the northern soul movement, so called due to the fact that it was centered in the northern parts of England.

According to Smokey Robinson, the Motown Sound had little to do with Detroit: "People would listen to it, and they'd say, 'Aha, they use more bass. Or they use more drums.' Bullshit. When we were first successful with it, people were coming from Germany, France, Italy, Mobile, Alabama. From New York, Chicago, California. From everywhere. Just to record in Detroit. They figured it was in the air, that if they came to Detroit and recorded on the freeway, they'd get the Motown sound. Listen, the Motown sound to me is not an audible sound. It's spiritual, and it comes from the people that make it happen. What other people didn't realize is that we just had one studio there, but we recorded in Chicago, Nashville, New York, L.A.--almost every big city. And we still got the sound"[1].

The sound was saluted in a Rod Stewart song, "The Motown Song" in 1991.


"(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave" by Martha & The Vandellas
"My Girl" by The Temptations
"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" by The Four Tops
"How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" by Marvin Gaye
"Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass
"You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes
"Cool Jerk" by The Capitols
"Build Me Up Buttercup" by The Foundations
"I Want You Back" by The Jackson 5
"The Motown Song" by Rod Stewart


  1. ^ *Hirshey, Gerri (1994). Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music. ISBN 0306805812

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Soul music
Girl group - Motown Sound - Northern soul - Psychedelic soul - Memphis soul - Neo soul - Funk - Hip hop soul - Disco

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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