Tuesday sees my second trip to Upton Park to watch Latics take on West Ham United, the first trip took place nine years ago in our first season in what was then Division One.
We were totally outclassed by a Marlon Harewood inspired Hammers side and our coach broke down on the way home, in terms of decent away days I’ve had better. Hopefully Tuesday’s trip in the Capital One Cup will bring more joy.
We certainly need it after two straight defeats against Manchester United and Fulham, the defeat at Old Trafford always has an inevitable feel to it but I’m sure Roberto and the team would have hoped to have picked at least a point up in a game which could have been considered a must win before Saturday.
Last season around this time we embarked on a disastrous run of consecutive defeats which saw us go a startling nine games without a solitary victory, not even a draw to speak of. We can’t let that happen again and need to pick up points in the league and indeed progress in the cup.
West Ham top boy and top geezer Danny Dyer
A trip to East London is never the easiest and with Big Sam’s side seeming to gain momentum over the last few weeks it will be that much harder tomorrow night. With a partisan home crowd and a near full strength Hammers side Latics will have to be close to their best to get a result.
After the lackluster performance last time out I would expect Roberto to shake the pack up with starts for the likes of Callum McManaman, Ryo Myiachi and candidate for miss of the season Mauro Bosselli.
If the side selected put in a similar performance to the one that we witnessed in Nottingham we may have a chance of progressing, anything less and there will be gloating a plenty from Green Street.
If you’re one of the hardy band of followers heading down to East London tomorrow I’ll see you there, if you’ve been sensible enough to stay at home I hope you enjoy the dry and warmth.
Slightly later this week but here is this week’s Retro Double, and what a double it is.
First up from 1971 and taken from their album ‘Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get’ The Dramatics with the stunning ‘ In The Rain ‘. The Dramatics were formed in Detroit in 1962 featuring members Ron Banks, L J Reynolds, Leonard Mayes and Elbert Wilkins.
‘In The Rain’ released on Stax records became one of The Dramatics best selling singles as it reached number one on the R&B charts and number five on the mainstream chart.
Secondly and our second selection from the 70′s this week features another iconic Soul group from New Jersey, The Manhattans. The Manhattans formed in 1962 comprising of members George Smith, Edward Bivins, Winfred ‘blue’ Lovett, Richard Taylor and Kenny Kelley.
The single ‘I Don’t Want To Pay The Price Of Losing You’ was released on the little known album ‘That’s How Much I Love you’ featuring new lead singer Gerald Alston on lead vocals, it was re-released in 2000 as part of the Expansion Soul Togetherness series.
When discussing Soul music greats the common names always crop up, David Ruffin, Levi Stubbs, Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, Luther Vandross and so forth. But what about a man who has been lead singer of two of the most successful black groups of all time, has carved out a successful solo career and stayed at the top of his game for over forty years?
George Curtis Cameron was born in Jackson Mississippi on September 21st 1945, although he and his family moved North to Detroit at a young age. The Cameron family consisted of nine siblings for G.C alongside growing up with his cousin a certain Philippe Wynne. G.C spent his youth running the streets of Detroit like a lot of other Motown artists at the time unaware of the exposure that he and the rest of the prospective artists would soon be subject to.
Harvey Fuqua plays an important part in the the G.C Cameron story, Fuqua sold his Tri-Phi label to Berry Gordy in 1963, in the package were The Spinners. The Spinners became part of the background at Motown, often over looked for material and when finally given material it was of poor quality compared to the other male Motown groups at the time. In 1969 The Spinners were looking for a new direction and indeed a new lead singer following the departure of long time lead Chico Edwards. G.C Cameron had spent the last few years of his life fighting in Vietnam and on his return in 1969 was recommended by none other than Dennis Edwards then of the Contours soon to be of The Temptations as a replacement for the departing Chico Edwards. G.C takes up the story “”My brother Dave had told Dennis that I was back from Vietnam and Dennis, in turn, called me and got me hooked-up … and Marvin Gaye auditioned me.” This chance call from Dennis Edwards had resulted in an audition with Marvin Gaye which G.C Cameron was successful in and Cameron along with The Spinners spent the next 12 months rehearsing and fine tuning their new look.
During this time both G.C Cameron and Marvin Gaye had entered into marriage with two of Berry Gordy’s sisters G.C Cameron married Gwen Gordy the ex wife Harvey Fuqua whilst Marvin Gaye married Anna Gordy resulting in G.C and Marvin having stronger links than simple label mates.
In 1970 The Spinners were transferred from Motown to the Motown subsidiary label V.I.P and the song that would transform the fortunes of The Spinners was released ‘It’s A Shame’.
‘It’s A Shame’ was a top 20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic with Motown fans in both the US and Britain taking a liking to the new line up of The Spinners with G.C Cameron as front man. After the success of ‘it’s A Shame’, the Spinners were offered a deal with Atlantic which the group decided to take eager to dispel the myth that they were failures at Motown. Going out on a high with ‘It’s A Shame’ gave The Spinners the early push they needed to break at Atlantic.
Due to a number of issues including contractual commitments and the fact that G.C was now a part of the Gordy family due to his marriage to Gwen saw Cameron stay with Motown and as a result end his short stint with The Spinners in favour of a solo career. Replacing G.C Cameron in The Spinners was one Philippe Wynne who we mentioned earlier, he had been rehearsing with the group in readiness for the departure of Cameron which was seen as imminent. As The Spinners battled their way up the charts with a new found support for their work at Atlantic along with the production talent of Thom Bell, Cameron started the moves to develop his solo career.
As Motown moved west to California so did Cameron and whilst The Spinners were enjoying a string of major hits at Atlantic he released his first solo work for Motown transferring to the short lived Mowest label Cameron released the tracks ‘Act Like A Shotgun’ and 1972’s ‘What It Is, What It Is’ which both received lukewarm support due to a number of factors including poor promotion on Motown’s part and simply a lack of credible material meaning both these releases didn’t even begin to showcase the talents of G.C Cameron.
Further tracks were recorded by Cameron but were shelved at the last minute, this led to a frustrated Cameron being placed in a difficult position, he had shown his loyalty to the Motown cause and indeed his loyalty to the Gordy family but he wasn’t being given the support his talent deserved or in fact the assurances he had been offered when staying at Motown, namely that Motown would do everything in their power to make his solo career a success.
One of his final releases with Mowest was the Smokey Robinson produced ‘Don’t Wanna Play Pyjama Games’ in which Cameron once again showcased his talent and versatility by delivering his vocal in a high tenor style not dissimilar to Smokey’s vocal style. A promised album under the tutelage of Smokey Robinson namely ‘7th Son’ didn’t come to fruition and Cameron was transferred back to the parent label Motown.
In 1974 after a near three year wait and with a string of unsuccessful singles behind him G.C Cameron finally released his first solo album at Motown namely the collectable ‘Love Songs and Other Tragedies’. His second album at Motown was the self titled ‘G.C Cameron’ released in 1976 and in 1977 his third and final solo album for Motown was released namely ‘You’re What’s Missing In My Life’. Sadly for G.C both these releases followed a similar path of poor promotion, bad management and led to his solo career struggling to get started whilst The Spinners had had a number of highly successful years at Atlantic hitting the charts on a regular basis.
There was to be one final release for Cameron at Motown the duet album ‘Rich Love, Poor Love’ with Syreeta but by the time of its release he was long gone after entering into divorce proceedings with his wife Gwen and negotiating a release from his contract at Motown.
Despite his time at Motown turning sour Cameron was still determined to make a success of the solo career he had carved out for himself and joined a number of small independent labels. During this transitional period Cameron decided to leave California and head back South to his roots, he resided in Franklin Mississippi and joined the infamous blues label Malaco.
One album was released on the Malaco label the highly under – rated ‘Give Me Your Love’ In 1983, for the most part of this period Cameron recorded sporadically and it wasn’t until he was approached by Ian Levine to become part of his Motor City project that Cameron began to record and perform on a regular basis again. He spent time working on the Motor City project as a writer, producer and of course singer. His Motor City productions were released as part of two albums ‘Right Or Wrong’ in 1991 and ‘The Very Best of G.C Cameron’ in 1996.
A further four years passed and the dawn of a new decade until G.C Cameron was involved in any projects of note again. In 2000 following the hospitalisation of The Spinners lead singer at the time John Edwards the group contacted Cameron with a view to coming on board until Edwards was well again. So after virtually thirty years away from the group G.C Cameron returned as lead singer of The Spinners he toured with the group in 2000 and again in 2002 when Edwards’ illness became more serious. Although he had never performed the Atlantic material that now made up the bulk of The Spinners set’s he performed admirably and was thrust back into the spotlight.
At this time his solo career which had been so badly managed at Motown in the 70’s was gathering pace once again with his first solo material in over ten years being given its release. ’Shadows’ produced by G.C himself and Ben Obi the album was a big success in the UK so well received that the album was licensed for release this side of the Atlantic and a 12 inch double a-side of the two biggest Modern Soul tracks from the album were released by Paul Mooney on the re-activated Grapevine label.
G.C Cameron left The Spinners once more in 2002 and a year later was back with arguably his biggest role to date, as he was recruited by The Temptations as their new lead singer replacing Barrington Bo Henderson. The Temptations had enjoyed a new lease of life following the release of 1998’s Phoenix Rising and with Barrington Henderson at the helm had won a Grammy award for their 2000 album ’Ear – Resistible’ and had been nominated for another Grammy with the 2001 release of ’Awesome’.
G.C Cameron was recruited as a replacement for the out going Henderson and immediately launched himself into the role singing lead on the group’s 2003 performance for the TV special Motown 45 whilst also settling into the studio to record ‘Legacy’ which would be The Temptations final studio album for Motown. Whilst recording Legacy Cameron would become the firmly established lead singer for the Tempts, taking lead on tracks such as ‘50 – 50 Love’, ‘Sumthin Special’, ‘Round Here’, ‘Still Temptin’ and ‘You Are Necessary In My Life’.
The album was well received despite a distinct lack of promotion from a Motown label going through yet another leadership change both internally and externally and with Universal the umbrella group under which Motown is kept struggling to see a direction for the label the album suffered heavily.
The Temptations went back on the road and two UK tours saw G.C Cameron produce some of his finest displays with the group. In 2006 a second Cameron led album was produced the groups first away from Motown for over 28 years since they were signed to Atlantic. ‘Reflections’ was described as “an album that allows The Temptations to perform the songs that they didn’t have chance to record first time around” and as such features a string of Motown covers. The album is badly let down from the over use of Electronic aspects to the production but once again featured some fine moments from G.C Cameron. After four years with the group he decided to depart from The Temptations and try his hand at a solo career once again. In 2009 he was featured on the popular Modern Soul album from Serieux ‘I Can Give You Love’ singing leads on the tracks ‘You Keep Running Back’ and ‘So Close To You’. After the release of these tracks his solo career was back up and running and with the soon to be released ‘Enticed Ecstasy’ (his first solo album post Temptations ) making big sounds on the Modern Soul scene all is looking well for one of the most distinctive voices of American Soul music.
G.C Cameron may not have the glamour appeal of a Marvin Gaye or a David Ruffin but his talent is without doubt and he certainly deserves his place amongst the greats of Soul Music. The fact that he has managed to spend time as lead singer for two of the most celebrated soul groups of all time once again displays how strong his credentials are. Under rated he may be without talent he is not.
* This article was first published in Manifesto magazine July 2010
Another Friday and another ‘Retro Double’ for your delication, if you didn’t see last Friday’s entry you missed a treat you can still access that one by clicking here …
First up for you this week I have another Philadelphia gem, from the legendary Jean Carn. First released in 1978 and peaking at number 18 on The American Billboard Disco chart ‘If You Wanna Go Back’ and the Morning Star Re-Edit.
Next up slowing things down ever so slightly and moving from Philadelphia to Chicago with Leroy Hutson and one of the most iconic Modern Soul singles of all time. Released in 1975 and taken from the album ‘Hutson’ this is ‘All Because Of You’.
Ron Tyson is somewhat of an unknown quantity in Soul circles, although a clearly talented vocalist he was first of all known for some of his legendary writing and production credits rather than his voice.
Born in Philadelphia in 1948, Tyson was as many artists at the time were influenced heavily by the church. He began to sing as part of his grandfather’s gospel group ‘Southern Gospel Six’. At this point in Tyson’s life its interesting to note just how heavily he was influenced by his grandfather Horrace Presson. Presson himself was a major player in the music business of the time, he was a Gospel music promoter and presented his own radio show, no doubt this influenced Ron Tyson and had an impact on his later career.
Ron travelled with his grandfather and the group ‘Southern Gospel Six’ performing at many gospel road shows up and down the country. When speaking of the influences on his musical career Ron always links back to his gospel roots and looking further into his background its easy to understand why and again displays the influence that gospel had on so many young musicians at that time.
Whilst at school Ron of course studied music taking lessons in both Opera and Guitar, being skilled in the art of Opera allowed Ron to hone the skills required by a tenor such as perfect pitch, breathing techniques and scales.
After leaving school Ron saw his future solely in music and helped to the form his first group ‘The Ethics’ who I’m sure are of a particular interest to the Northern Soul scene. Signed to the local Philadelphia label Vent, The Ethics consisted of Ron Tyson, Carl ‘Nugie’ Enlow, Andrew ‘Bike’ Collins and Joe Freeman.
The Ethics were the quintessential 60′s soul group searching for that big break and despite still being relatively obscure the group scored a number of local hits and as such began to build up a firm reputation across the East Coast. In terms of rare soul sides The Ethics are best known for their releases ‘Look At Me Now’, ‘Sad Sad Story’, and ‘I Want My Baby Back’.
After their inception in 1967 The Ethics evolved into Love Committee and over the consequent years saw a number of personnel changes with Norman Frazier and Larry Richardson joining and following the untimely death of Larry Richardson Michael Bell, former vocalist with Sly Slick and Wicked came on board.
Love Committee endured many changes throughout the seventies until they signed with T.S.O.P (The Sound Of Philadelphia Records), Ariola International and ultimately Gold Mind records where they began to score a number of minor disco hits including ‘Law and Order’.
During this time Tyson had been honing his skills as a song writer and producer and despite his relative success with both The Ethics and Love Committee he had developed a reputation as a skilled and competent producer and song writer across Philadelphia.
Tyson had been the sole or co – writer on most of The Ethics and Love Committee releases and furthered his career as a writer and producer by working with the likes of; The Ojays, First Choice, Gloria Gaynor, Lolleta Holloway, The Tramps and Bunny Sigler. Later he also worked with such luminaries as Curtis Mayfield, The Four Tops, The Dells, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and Archie Bell & The Drells.
Ron’s clear talent was spotted by Norman ‘The Machine’ Harris and appointed as part of ‘The Harris Machine’ Norman Harris production company. Working alongside the likes of Ron Kearsey, Alan Felder and Ronnie Baker.
Later on in this period Ron Tyson became an essential part of the Philadelphia Soul trapestry working with Harris – Baker – Young at the time Philadelphia’s Premier Rhythm section consisted of guitarist Norman “The Machine” Harris, drummer Earl Young, and bass player, Ron Baker. During the course of his many collaborations in Philly, Ron proved himself to be a dilligent worker, very determined, and a talented, sought after vocalist, writer, and producer.
In 1977 Ron first made his mark with The Temptations as one of the main producers for their first Atlantic album ‘Hear To Tempt You’ producing over seven tracks on that album and despite the lacklustre reception of the album Tyson’s work was deemed a success. The Temptations released one more album for Atlantic records in 1978 entitled ‘Bareback’ before returning to Motown. Another former Temptation and hero of Ron Tyson’s came into the fore during this period, as The Temptations left Atlantic Eddie Kendricks was producing two of his most well received solo albums. Ron co-wrote songs and sang background on both Norman Harris produced Eddie Kendricks’ albums, “He’s A Friend” and “Goin’ Up In Smoke.” On “Goin’ Up In Smoke” Phil Hurt, Bunny Sigler, & Carl Helm also sang background with Ron. Ron also sang background vocals on several of the sessions in Philly. Ron has quite a vocal range. Although he is known for singing in his sweet falsetto voice, he is very capable of singing bass as well.
Ron Tyson 2011
Following on from his time working with the group The Temptations and Ron Tyson became firm friends and after Glenn Leonard departed the group in 1983 Ron Tyson was seen as the ideal replacement. Putting his career as a writer and producer on the back burner somewhat Tyson jumped at the challenge.
It’s fair to say that Ron’s introduction into the world of The Temptations wasn’t without its problems, he had been in rehearsals for little more than a week when filming for Motown 25 commenced, The Temptations with their new tenor where set to be one of the major show pieces in the show. So without having performed with the group live on stage before Tyson was thrust into the limelight and launched his Temptations career with one of the groups most memorable performances.
Ron Tyson’s contribution to the Temptation’s story shouldn’t be underestimated. Here was one of the most underrated song writers and producers of his generation not to mention a talented vocalist. He was with the group at some of their leanest years and no doubt lowest ebbs. Throughout the groups period of success with Ali Ollie Woodson in the mid to late 80′s and their struggles in the early 90′s Tyson was present.
He was also there as the group were inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame and despite not being an inductee himself he is part of the legacy which allowed the group to be inducted into the hall of fame. Tyson was also present as the tragic deaths of Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin and Melvin Franklin became a reality.
Tyson was awarded with a Grammy along with the rest of the group for best traditional R&B performance on 2000′s Earisistable. Ron Tyson is clearly a man of much talent and distinction but more importantly perhaps is the fact that Ron Tyson has produced a clear amount of staying power, he is currently celebrating his 28th year as a Temptation third only to Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams, and along with Otis is the second longest serving member of the group.
For Tyson to stay active and on the whole successful with The Temptations for 28 years is no mean feat, he has seen many changes, much in the way of comings and goings but has stayed true to the group throughout that time. Tyson is certainly an under rated member of the soul community but certainly deserves his place in Soul history and for that Temptation history as a major player in the contemporary history of one of Soul music’s most legendary groups.
*This article first appeared in the June 2009 issue of Manifesto magazine
For a full and detailed discography of all of Ron’s work as both a solo artist, writer, producer and of course member of The Ethics, Love Committee and The Temptations check out Ron’s personal and excellent website www.rontyson.com where you can find out much more about Philadelphia’s finest.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to be publishing some articles from my archives* covering all manner of things, first up lets try this:
Sean Livesey looks into the Motown label today and 50 years after its launch whether it can still be considered an active label that appeals to the Soul Scene.
In January 2009 Motown celebrated its 50th Anniversary since the labels inception and it got me thinking about the state of the Motown records of today. Motown Records or The Universal Motown Group as it is now known is a totally different prospect to that of the one that Berry Gordy and some of the greatest ever talent assembled launched out of a house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit back in 1959, but is there still a presence of creative talent and the sense of what went before at the label?
Motown and Detroit finally went their separate ways in June 1972 with the move to Los Angeles. Motown had established offices both in Los Angeles and New York throughout the mid 60’s as the label grew in stature both nationally and internationally. The big push to Los Angeles came about through a number of burgeoning factors, there was always the sense within Motown that the label had grown at a much quicker rate than anybody had ever expected and as such had outgrown the small beginnings that had seen the company flourish on West Grand Boulevard. As a result of this growth spurt Gordy purchased Golden World Records in 1968 and the studios of Golden World became known as Studio B in direct contrast to the legendary Hitsville Studio A. During the same year he purchased the Donavon building in down-town Detroit and moved the majority of operations to this high rise office building.
During the late 60’s and early 70’s as Motown was taking care of itself musically Berry Gordy began to stretch out into TV and later film. Motown began to commission their own TV Specials including TCB: Taking Care of Business with Diana Ross & The Supremes with The Temptations, G.I.T on Broadway, the Temptations Show and the Smokey Robinson Show. The development of these TV Specials coincided with the arrival of Suzanne De Passe to the company her main roles within her position at Motown surrounded the production of these shows. Motown Productions the TV and Movie Production arm of the Motown division was created and De Passe became the head of that division.
The writing was on the wall for Detroit when Berry Gordy began to spend more and more time working with Suzanne De Passe but more so when he began to spend weeks on end in Los Angeles at the LA offices, whilst leaving the smooth operation of the Detroit office and still at that times Motown’s official base to vice President Smokey Robinson.
Although Music was his first and foremost love, Gordy had always wanted Motown to be more than just a music label. He had wanted the label to be versatile and a fighting force in the American Entertainment Industry; he wanted Motown to be the biggest entertainment company in the world, much more than just the biggest music company in the world. Early examples of this can be found within the pairing together of The Temptations with Dianna Ross & The Supremes for numerous TV Specials.
In addition there was a live album of TCB produced whilst a year previously both The Temptations and The Supremes had performed a series of successful dates at the Copacabana Club in New York. The two groups represented the height of success possible at Motown and to push the groups further TV and in Diana Ross’ case Movies was the way forward for Gordy, and his team.
The move to Los Angeles was completed almost over-night in June 1972, with a number of high profile acts staying behind including The Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The majority of The Funk Brothers and of course Holland Dozier Holland who had left the company in 1968 following court battles over Royalties.
Speaking to the Guardian in October of last year Smokey Robinson speaks of how against the move to Los Angeles he was “I was the biggest protester about us moving,’ stresses Smokey.’I was born here in Detroit. Motown was born here in Detroit and I told Berry this. I explained all of this to him: “Berry, this is our roots, we started here” and he explained to me that he wanted to become a record complex. He said we could stay in Detroit and be a record company but LA is where entertainment is centralised. I bought him books on earthquakes and smog and everything you can think of, trying to get him not to move, but finally he said, “Look, you’re vice-president of the company, get your family, come on out here because you’ve got to” and so I moved out there.’”
The move to Los Angeles and Motown becoming an all round entertainment company was finalised later that year as Diana Ross starred in the Billie Holiday biographical film ‘Lady Sings The Blues’ (1972).
Motown’s early days in Los Angeles were deemed a success as the company kept up the high standard of hits and material that it had produced in Detroit. But despite this healthy facade the company had been in a terminal decline since it left its spiritual home of Detroit.
During the mid 70’s and early 80’s Motown entered a new phase of recording talent with the likes of The Commodores, Lionel Richie, Rick James & Teena Marrie sat alongside long time label mates Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and Dianna Ross. Despite this success it was reported in a number of quarters that Motown was beginning to lose money. The effect of the company not being able to cope with its enormous growth over the past two decades along with a changing trend in music likes and music buyers habits.
Fewer singles were being sold alongside a change in musical tastes across America; Disco had come and gone whilst Rock was now the popular music of choice for much of the states. As a result this left Motown in a difficult position, did it continue as a primarily black music label or did it try to move with the times and re-invent itself. Whether Gordy ever found the answer is debatable with mounting debts surrounding the company he finally relinquished his hold on one of the few remaining Independent Music Companies in the world and by far the most successful.
In 1988 Gordy sold Motown to MCA and Boston Ventures for a reported $61 million a fraction of its price a few years before. A year later he sold the TV and Movie Production section of Motown to its original instigator Suzanne De Passe, who later re-named it De Passe Entertainment.
As soon as Gordy left Motown, the label entered an even more difficult period and Gordy’s immediate successor Jheryl Busby continually quarrelled with MCA over their treatment of Motown and its products. Motown successfully sued MCA and had its distribution deal terminated and later signed up for a distribution deal with Polygram Records, three years later Polygram purchased Motown outright.
Ironically, Gordy began To Be Loved, his autobiography published in 1994, by reflecting on his misgivings about selling Motown to MCA. “That night, 30 December 1986, I passed on the deal even though my company was losing millions,” wrote the boss, who spent a further 17 months wavering before eventually reaching an agreement in May 1988 and selling Motown for $61m (Jobete, the lucrative publishing arm of the company, was finally wholly acquired by EMI Publishing in 2004). “For years, we had shown the world what we could do with talent and ingenuity at our base. And now these new corporate entities were showing me what they could do with money and power as theirs… I was just tired. I didn’t want to do it anymore. It had long stopped being fun for me. When I started out, I was doing about 90 per cent creative and 10 per cent business. As the years went, the percentages more than switched. Now, I was doing 98 per cent business and 2 per cent creative. I was stuck and I hated it.”
The mid to late nineties saw an upturn in fortunes for the label, as urban and contemporary R&B came back into focus the label performed the masterstroke of signing Boyz II Men who amassed a huge number of successful singles and over four multi- million selling studio albums. The Temptations one of the few remaining original acts left on Motown linked to the Detroit days recorded somewhat of a comeback album for the label in 1997 ‘Phoenix Rising’ the first album for the group without original member the legendary bass singer Melvin Franklin. Phoenix Rising became one of The Temptations best-selling albums being awarded Double Platinum status, the lead song from that album ‘Stay’ hit number one on the R&B charts and stayed there for over 11 weeks during this period. Other successful acts linked to the label in the late 90’s included Erykau Badu, Brian McKnight, Michael McDonald and India Arie.
Following on from this successful period saw the label begin to struggle for an identity once again, two of the mainstays of Motown namely Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross left the label for good in 1999 and 2002 respectively whilst Polygram was acquired by The Universal Music Group and as such folded into part of The Universal umbrella. In 2005 Motown was merged with Universal Records to form the Motown Universal Records Group.
Despite the promise of the creative and successful black music acts signed to the label in the mid to late nineties and early 2000’s Motown was sidelined further by its parent group Universal and from being one of the most successful record labels of all time its current state is a sorry state of affairs.
The only remaining member from the label’s early days is Stevie Wonder, but his distinct lack of albums over the last decade makes him seem more of throwback to the Motown of old without being considered a ‘current’ artist. The Temptations left the label in 2005 following the release of their final album for the label namely ‘Legacy’. The album was given such a poor amount of promotion by the label that it became the final straw for Otis Williams and the group. They left and signed with a new label set up by Universal entitled ‘New Door Records’.
Reviewing all of this, the question could be asked, is Motown even considered a Label anymore? Perhaps the executives at The Universal Records Group would argue yes, and in the modern sense it may well be. But is there any link to the Motown we all know, love and respect? Not in the slightest, perhaps the name is still there as is Stevie but like the worker who was asked to turn the light out at the end of a shift it seems Stevie isn’t there for any creative purposes but just because he has always been.
Motown’s current roster features the likes of Lindsay Lohan (enough said), Busta Rhymes, Nick Cannon, Q-Tip, Damian and Stephen Marley, Lil Wayne, Ashanti. It would be wrong for me to disregard every artist signed to the label and of course the likes of India Arie, Erykah Badu and Stevie are some of the finest black music artists present and recording today. Motown is the largest music conglomerate present in today’s industry holding any number of label groups such as Black ground, Casablanca, Republic, Cash Money. As a result the majority of acts on Motown in 2009 are actually artists from other labels, hence the likes of Lil Wayne, Akon and Lindsay Lohan being on the Motown roster in 2009.
Sadly that is the true reflection of Motown it is now a group of labels with no clear identity. Now based in New York the label is a reflection that the company that Berry Gordy created was a once in a lifetime event. Never again will anybody be able to harness the talent that Gordy managed to in that little house on West Grand Boulevard Motown is simply a brand in 2009 and sadly not one for the better.
There are some positive aspects to Motown in the new century its back catalogue is finally being utilized but on its 50th anniversary Motown’s legacy is that of Berry Gordy and what he created, not what came after him.
*First published in Manifesto magazine January 2010