Motown Crossover Hits 1963-1966 and the Creative Process
This article argues for a more significant place of the Motown sound within popular music history by focusing on its innovative creative process. It challenges the tendency to focus on the productive input of the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland by pointing to the contributions of session players who were not always subject to the team’s direction. The creative process was more interactive between musicians and producers. The gospel tradition was also central to Motown’s style, and elements such as rhythm and syncopation from gospel found its way into the Motown sound, including “a swelling communal style ‘sing-a-long’ chorus, call-response vocals, 120 beat dance tempo with fingerclicks, a subtly shifting repetitive chordal backing featuring piano, expressive quasi-improvisatory lead vocals with blues inflections” (4). While these are hallmarks of the Motown sound, Fitzgerald questions the notion of uniformity in that sound. Moreover, the emphasis on rhythm by H-D-H became the foundation for songs rather than an accent in a section of a song. This shift resulted in a new style in pop songs, that is, making the melody and lyric primarily rhythmic. This distinguished Motown songs form other pop songs of the time, and the crossover effect translated into more exposure to and acceptance by white audiences, who could support the original rather than just a cover. While often critiqued as “selling out,” musicians did not characterize the music’s appeal that way.