Still More...

Remember that by this stage I’d actually seen James Brown in action, and Otis Redding, at least, from the Stax/Volt Revue had also surfaced on Now Time but these two slightly-built jack-in-the-boxes had their own dynamism.

Otis Redding strutted, stamped and pleaded to the audience, but stayed more or less in one place. James Brown worked the stage, and there was no one who could move in quite the same way, but these two little guys were something else. I don’t recall whether their singles had received much airplay in Australia, but I do have the feeling that Hold On I’m Coming, at least, was pretty well-known. 

And when Soul Man came out in 1968, it went straight to the top of my personal ratings because I could visualise what it would have looked like on stage. The opening riff from Steve Cropper, the call and response, the dance steps, the whole package. 

By that stage there was plenty of Motown played on the radio - mainly the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes. I don’t recall much by the Temptations though I think they’ve aged better than their contemporaries (that might also be a function of lower visibility in the Top 40). 

You got to hear Aretha, Otis and the Wicked Pickett from time to time as well, so there wasn’t anything novel about soul, R&B or whatever you wanted to call it. It was popular, danceable, and you even got to see some of those acts on TV. But something about Sam & Dave set them apart from the other Stax/Volt artists and the Atlantic soul.

There was also a huge gulf between the Stax/Volt/Atlantic records and what was coming out of Motown.

Compared to the funkier soul stew coming out of Memphis (and to some extent New York) Motown fitted far more easily into the mainstream. That’s hardly surprising when you look at the origins of the two labels. 

Berry Gordy, ex-boxer, moderately successful songwriter and founder of Tamla-Motown was looking for mainstream acceptance, and Motown acts were fine-tuned to present something that looked good on stage, sounded great and could be transposed into areas that wouldn’t normally be open to black Americans. In the middle of racial unrest, the Vietnam War, and the emergence of Black Power, Motown was the face of an emerging black middle class, with hopes and aspirations that weren’t too different from those of white America. 

B© Ian Hughes 2012