Showtime Helps Motown Records Mark Its 60th Anniversary

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The Showtime documentary — Hitsville: The Making of Motown — tells the story of the most successful soul/R&B record label in music history from the viewpoint of Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

As Motown Records marks its 60th anniversary, Showtime on Saturday will present the documentary “Hitsville: The Making Of Motown.” It’s the first documentary that Motown founder Berry Gordy has participated in. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says his involvement makes the film good but also keeps it from being great.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: It’s a little ironic that a documentary on one of the most successful record companies in music history begins with the sound of a business meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “HITSVILLE: THE MAKING OF MOTOWN”)

BERRY GORDY: The artists that are wide open for releases are Diana Ross and The Supremes.

GREENE: That’s a quality control meeting at Motown in the 1960s. Berry Gordy speaking, his list of artists were a who’s who of soul, R&B and pop music, including Mary Wilson of The Supremes, who said Motown’s Detroit headquarters was like Disneyland.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARY WILSON: But it was a musical Disneyland. I mean, you could walk through the halls of Motown and see Marvin Gaye playing the piano in the corner.

DEGGANS: The filmmakers have a wealth of material thanks to Gordy, who’s also an executive producer. There’s footage of early performances by legends like Stevie Wonder, who composed his hit Fingertips on the fly during a live show at the Apollo.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FINGERTIPS, PTS. 1-2 [LIVE AT THE REGAL THEATER, CHICAGO/1962]“)

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Say yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yeah.

WONDER: (Singing) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Yeah.

DEGGANS: Gordy founded Motown in Detroit in 1959. He was inspired by the assembly line at Ford to create a record company organized the same way, with artists shaped by producers, a charm school and yes, quality control.

Gordy and star Smokey Robinson are the heart of the film. They’re longtime friends shown arguing playfully over whether Marvin Gaye or Gladys Knight first recorded “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” A call to a former Motown executive settles their bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, “HITSVILLE: THE MAKING OF MOTOWN”)

UNIDENTIFIED MOTOWN EXECUTIVE: Yes, sir.

GORDY: Oh look; I’m here with Smokey. Tell me “The Grapevine” record and who recorded it first, and what happened?

SMOKEY ROBINSON: I mean, Marvin recorded it after Gladys. That’s what I said.

UNIDENTIFIED MOTOWN EXECUTIVE: No, incorrect. Sorry, Smoke.

DEGGANS: But this film deemphasize as serious controversies. In particular, Diana Ross, who had a complicated long-term love affair with Gordy that affected both their careers, doesn’t provide a fresh interview. Full disclosure – in the mid-1980s, I was in a band briefly signed at Motown. Still, I learned a lot from “Hitsville: The Making Of Motown,” which is an entertaining celebration only slightly marred by its lack of incisiveness. I’m Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “FINGERTIPS, PTS. 1-2 [LIVE AT THE REGAL THEATER, CHICAGO/1962]“)

Article via NPR

Watch Smokey Robinson Defend Classic Soul Music Against James Corden

James Corden is always up for a good argument about music and this time the late night host has tapped Smokey Robinson for a debate over classic soul versus modern soul. Robinson appeared on The Late Late Show to promote new documentary Hitsville: The Making of Motown, prompting Corden to contend that he prefers the soulful hits of 2019.

“I’m talking like Usher, Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill,” Corden notes. “I feel like new songs have better sound.”

The host is interrupted by Robinson, who takes Corden to task. “I heard you been telling people that modern soul music is better than classic soul music,” Robinson says. “Well, you know, classic soul music is my thing, man.” He adds, “How about we settle this right here, right now?”

Back by The Filharmonic, Robinson and Corden takes turns attempting to prove their music is best, with Robinson performing his own track “Cruisin” and The Temptations’ classic “Get Ready.” Corden counters with Bruno Mars “Finesse” and Lizzo’s “Juice.” Finally, the duo come together in agreement on a rendition of “My Girl.”

Hitsville: The Making of Motown, which will premiere  August 24th on Showtime, recounts the story of Motown Records. It features Robinson, as well as Berry Gordy, Dr. Dre and John Legend, and was directed by Benjamin and Gabe Turner. The documentary will have an accompanying official soundtrack, which will feature music from the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Robinson, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas and the Jackson 5. The record is available to pre-order as a 16-track and 35-track set.

Article via Rolling Stone