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 firstname.lastname@example.org.