Like baseball and BBQ, Motown evokes a special type of nostalgia that’s uniquely American. While the term “Motown” is used to describe a specific sound, it is actually the name of a record label founded in 1959. It was one of the most successful black-owned business of its time. The record label is responsible for launching the careers of influential artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Gladys Knight, among many others.
Known for its eclectic mix of soul, jazz, R&B, and pop, Motown music is the perfect soundtrack for your summer. As you build your ultimate summer playlist, here are four Motown artists you might consider for your jamming-out needs.
Motown Artists to Add to Your Summer Playlist:
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
This girl group came to Motown’s attention when they were hired to sing backup for Marvin Gaye. Signed in 1962, Martha and the Vandellas achieved their first Top 40 hit with “Come and Get These Memories.” with a sound that blends doo-wop, pop, blues, and R&B, the trio’s musical style is likely to result in dancing. For the summer months, try “Heatwave” or “Dancing in the Street.”
The Four Tops
Consisting of four Detroit residents who started off as high school friends, the Four Tops joined the Motown label in 1963. With the help of the Motown songwriting and production team Holland-Dozier-Holland, the quartet was able to release a number of chart-toppers, including “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” When it comes to capturing the essence of the Motown sound, it doesn’t get much better than the Four Tops.
Boasting a four-octave vocal range, Marvin Gaye is one of Motown’s most prolific and enduring artists. Surprisingly, he wasn’t interested in an R&B career when he was first signed to the label in 1960, having a greater interest in jazz. His first number one single, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” features an upbeat tempo and lyrics about finding out about a lover’s betrayal, which is somehow perfect for the dog days of summer.
It’s rare to hear or talk about Motown without mentioning the Supremes. The label’s meteoric rise in the 1960s is attributed to the Supremes, who were at one time more popular than the Beatles. Originally a quartet, the group became a trio when the fourth member left to start a family. Today, the Supremes are regarded as Motown’s most commercially successful act, thanks to their repertoire of catchy, poppy hits delivered in the breathy, understated voice of Diana Ross. Some of their summer-ready tunes include “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” and “Stop! In the Name of Love.”
These are four of the classic go-to artists to add to your Motown summer soundtrack. If you are looking for more, look up some artists who recorded with the Motown record producer and browse their catalog. You are sure to find something you love, whether it be covers of popular songs, original recordings, or more recent artists putting a modern spin on that well-loved Motown sound.