Standing in the Shadows of Motown

Rating: * * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Director: Paul Justman
Running time: 108 minutes
Language: English
Currently showing
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Musicians are always getting screwed. If it isn't their record label cheating them out of royalties, the club owner trying to hang onto their wages, or their fans pirating all their albums via file-trading, then it's the damn singers taking credit for everything. Everybody knows, say, James Brown, but how many people can name the drummer who came up with that funky backbeat for which the Godfather of Soul is known? (Answer: Clyde Stubblefield.)

True, many singers are self-contained creative and charismatic stars, and you could put any bunch of faceless session musicians behind them and still wind up in the same place. (Anyone heard Norah Jones' second album?) But that's not always the case: Take Detroit's Motown label, from its most fertile period in the '60s and '70s, when it managed to crank out more No. 1 singles than The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Elvis combined.

The Supremes, The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye.. . . Motown's hit-makers were singers one and all. But stop for a moment -- I mean, really stop -- and let the sounds of The Temptations' "My Girl" drift through your head. Guaranteed the first thing you'll be hearing is that monumentally simple six-note guitar arpeggio that sucks you in. Or try the same with "Heard it Through the Grapevine." Those keyboard chords set the mood up just right for the vocals to drop in mid-phrase. Or just try to hum "Where did our Love Go?" without hearing that crisp, swinging snare drum driving it along on the backbeat.