In the early 1960's, Motown managed to create accessible r&b-oriented pop songs, almost all of which centered around love. Catering first and foremost to the rising urban working and middle-class African-American population, it managed to strike a chord with most of the youth of America, and Barry Gordy could rightly lay claim to the motto "The Sound of Young America".
By the end of the decade, America was a very different place. As such, Motown started, very tentatively, to change. In 1968, the Supremes released "Love Child". I will confess that one of my older sisters had this song on a 45 and I used to listen all the time, loving this song, never knowing what it was about. The eleventh number one song the Supremes would have, it signaled a change in Motown that was following the changes in America.
The Temptations told another side of the story of the underclass in an unforgettable performance - "Papa Was A Rolling Stone". With all the panache and class they always had, they still delivered a song one never could have imagined them doing five or six years previously. Here they are in a 1972 television appearance.
After struggling with a very bad marriage to Barry Gordy's sister, and coming off the tragedy of his beloved singing partner Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye produced what is, without a doubt, the greatest album Motown released, What's Going On. Partly a result of his stubborn refusal to take label-owner Gordy's advice as to a direction, partly a result of letters he received from his brother, who was serving in combat in Vietnam, and partly as a result of his desire to show that he had more interests than, as he put it in one interview, "his genitals", the album is a beautiful mix of political and social protest, religious and spiritual songs, all featuring, front and center, Gaye's beautiful, clear tenor. I will admit that the title track is among my favorite songs of all time; if hard pressed, I might say it is the favorite. This long live clip is from a 1973 film, and shows Gaye playing the piano and singing, along with clips of urban life depicting the struggle about which he was singing.