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The rise and fall of Motown Records

Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, there were very few record labels that had national merit, and none was higher than Motown Records. During its prime, it had numerous No. 1 hits from a variety of groups: the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the list goes on. But since its move to Los Angeles in the mid ‘70s, the entire label has gone downhill, and was sold just a few years ago. My question is: Why?

There are multiple reasons why Motown has disintegrated. The first is the move to Los Angeles. The word Motown has always been synonymous with Detroit. It was started there, most of the groups and founder Berry Gordy were from there. But, the label saw the lures of Los Angeles and deserted Detroit for the sunny future. The only problem was that it wasn’t sunny at all. Marvin Gaye eventually left. The Temptations left. The Supremes broke up and most of the house band, the Funk Brothers, stayed in Detroit. Without most of its prime groups, the label deteriorated dramatically until today.

The second big reason is Berry Gordy. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have a ton of respect for Gordy. He started the label from nothing, created a major company and implemented an ingenious quality control program. Now, I say that he was the problem because he got a little greedy, and thought that each group needed a frontman. First, it was Diana Ross and the Supremes, then Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. When he started to distance individual members from the group, sale declined for both and then the groups eventually separated. The only two who didn’t change were the Temptations and the Four Tops.

The final reason is that the groups eventually got too big. You saw it early on with David Ruffin when he was a Temptation, then you saw Diana Ross leave the Supremes. Now, most groups are led by certain individuals. When those vocalists got big heads, their groups deteriorated until they had to make a lineup change. When Diana Ross left, the Supremes basically disappeared. The Temptations actually kept up their success after Ruffin. Motown survived, but just barely.

Now, as its biggest stars are retiring or passing away, Motown has gone with them. Its legacy will be legendary, but its decline has been sweep and sudden. I only wish that we could’ve been around when it was at its peak.

Wendlant is a sophomore broadcast journalism major. He can be contacted at michael.wendlant@drake.edu.


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  1. glenn November 9, 2010

    this is the biggest load of bull i have ever heard,you was obviously too young to appreciate the greatest music legacy that as ever existed.. it didnt make any difference where Motown was situated it was the music itself,it had a rythm that would never be copied the entire catalogue of music will always be relevent to todays stars

  2. jeff November 9, 2010

    you are wrong on all accounts-in my opinon-the reason why their were frontmen has been explanied to death-more money-you should do more research about the company and it’s people before you publish-Have you been to Detroit lately-I’ve lived their and travel their for business every other day-it looks like a 3rd world country-not only that Universal bought mowtown for 100 million or something like that.-

  3. floyjoy November 10, 2010

    Whike I agree with some of the reason for the decline of Motown, the author fails to realize that the biggest reason for the decline is that The Baby Boomers grew up and stopped buying records.

    The Baby Boomers made Motown, in particular, The Supremes. and after 5 years, the Baby Boomers were 5 years older, and the sallure of The Suprems began to wane. Also, Jean Terrell was not a good replacement for Ross. She was, basically, a soloist put in to front The Supremes. Wilson had no real talent or a voice, and Birdsong was a useless joke who had no vocal power or talent, or, even drive. Wilson and Birdsong had nothing to add to fill the vacumn after Ross lleft, and Terrell was too concerned with her “blackness” to understand that The Supremes had already open the doors…she needn’t had dwelled on her “blackness.”

    Holland-Dozier-Holland had already left and they were the real key to The Motown Sound. In the end, Motown’s uniquess and service had run its course…so, Motown folded.

  4. JJ November 10, 2010

    When Diana Ross left Motown for RCA, the queen left the palace and there was nothing magical left. It was the last straw for Motown. Her exit turned out to be Ross’ last straw also. When success ends, it is not easy to accept and most limp on and on and on instead of retiring with dignity and self-respect.

  5. Billy Kempton November 11, 2010

    The music of Motown will live forever despite the “Fall” of the label. The magic of Motown help define the music of many generations and contributed to the foundation for what pop music is today. The legendary roster of recording acts especially Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, The Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder will keep the Motown Sound alive and well for several generations to come.

  6. Edwin November 11, 2010

    To floyjoy…Your comment about the later day Supremes is soo wrong, After Ross left the group these women became a real group, and made there best music. Motown was to dumb to see the BIG PICTURE. Jean Terrell came to the group with Soul, just what Mary and Cindy both wanted in a new member. After Ross Left, Mary got her time to sing and she has not stop, and she has become a real Soul Sister today, singing all over the world,and not just at older but goodie shows. So Floyjoy learn your real Motown History….Peace

  7. floyjoy November 17, 2010


    The “New” Supremes were a parody! No discipline, and all the wrong flair! The “New” Supremes never worked. They became a joke and within two years after Ross left, they were essentially finished. That a group who had been so successful became a group so unsuccessful within two years, bespeaks volimes.

    Mary and Cindy had no voices. All you have to do is listen to “New Ways But Love Stays”. It was all about production where Frank Wilson multi-tracked the background along with Jean because the backgrouns was so week and blasse, that wilson had to imploy production techniques.

    Give it a rest, please! The SUpremes will be remembered for their Diana Ross-led years and not for their Rossless-led years.

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