Monday, January 12, 2009

Music Mondays; The Beat of Motown

Today, Monday 12th January is the 50th birthday of Motown records and people all over the world will be celebrating the music label that spawned the likes of The Supremes, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye and a host of other amazing artists.

But the reach of Motown goes far beyond merely producing artists; it gave rise to a whole new brand of music, a merging of pop and soul that became known as the Motown sound. A sound which has since prompted whole new generations of singers and musicians to create music based upon and inspired by their love and knowledge of Motown.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s when I was a young teenager there was a resurgence of the 1950 and 1960’s Mod movement whose followers had originally favoured the sound of Northern Soul a UK derivative of the Motown sound. The 70s' mod revival was headed by The Jam but it was also associated with The Two Tone Record Label whose headline acts were Madness, The Specials, Selector, The Beat and Bad Manners. Like the early Motown groups which had furthered the cause of Black Americans within the music world and within society The Two Tone record label whose groups featured Black and White band members playing Ska music (which was an amalgamation of a number of diverse influences) it promoted racial harmony and even had a strong fan base amongst the controversial Skinhead contingent.

Out of the Two Tone artists my favourite were The Beat although Madness had more hits and more universal appeal - I preferred the more raw sound of The Beat. Their first song released in 1978 was a cover version of the Smokey Robinson song Tears of a Clown.

It was about this time of my life I first started going to discos. Unlike many “discos” which played predominately music like The Bee Gees, Edwin Starr and Earth Wind and Fire discos of this era featured the Ska music of The Two Tone Record label . Ska and Mod music was deemed acceptable to dance along with by adolescent boys ( i.e More than just their usual occasional nod and shift from one foot to the other whilst hiding behind a large potted plant.) Ska had its own particular dance style accompanied by the fashion of turned up jeans, trilbies, pork pie hats, parkas covered with badges or alternatively two tone suits and long thin ties. Girls wore mini skirts, dresses and even shoes in patchworks of black and white.

Amazingly, whilst looking on You Tube I actually found a video some guy has posted of himself dancing in the Mod/Ska style (regretfully without the correct dress but nevertheless wearing some stylish track pants) which if you fancy a giggle have a look below and you’ll see exactly the style of dancing I mean. Crazy! But back then it was really… hip.

Those days were great fun and at times very exciting; music was in our eardrums all the time and hardly a day passed without talk of the latest release. It just goes to show that with good friends and good music you really don’t need alcohol and amphetamines to enjoy yourself. (But chocolate is a different matter altogether - especially if it has a fluid consistency.)

I hope you enjoy all these videos for which ultimately we have to thank Berry Gordy and his aspirational dreams. After 50 years of success for Motown I guess we can say that sometimes dreams really do come true.

Here's The Beat;

And Smokey;

And someone who should know better!

Blimey, I love that crazy guy! As we say in England..."He's got balls!"

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