Monday, April 6, 2020

Hitsville: We Got It, You Need It.

Monday: day 23 of the shutdown for some of us. Most strikes don’t last this long.

But let’s forget about pathogens, pandemics and politics for the day. I have something much better for you to focus on, music and movies. Or to be more precise, a movie about music – Hitsville: The Making of Motown is a nearly 2 hour documentary film that explores the founding of Motown in Detroit in 1958. We just watched it last night.

Hitsville museum, a simple house in Detroit where the legendary Motown sound was created

It’s not without its flaws but all you need to know is that this remarkable story about the founding and development of the legendary Motown Records is a joyous, nostalgic look at a great American success story. The bad bits tend to be left out in favor of the upbeat story of how Barry Gordy – failed boxer and record store owner went to work on Ford’s assembly line which inspired his concept for making hit records. With just $800 and a sense of entrepreneurship instilled by his parents he founded the internationally renowned Motown Records – his Hit Factory. The rest as they say is a dazzling history that we are privileged to share in this documentary.

The bulk of the story is related by legendary Barry Gordy himself – 89 at the time of the film’s making – and his best friend and associate Smokey Robinson, a kid by comparison at 79.

Hitsville: the Making of Motown - a thrilling celebration of the ...

The stories (Martha Reeves was a secretary at Motown just filling in at the Mic when she was “discovered”) archival footage (the Temptations, Four Tops, Supremes etc. etc. etc.), the “sound” (the echo chamber was the upstairs bathroom in the 2 story “Hitsville” house), the song writers (Gordy and Robinson themselves as well as legendary team Holland-Dozier-Holland) the artists (Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, etc. etc.), development (there was dance class and  “charm school” in the Hit Factory’s schematic), and of course the string of hit tunes that 50 years on still sound great. There are a few downbeats including tales of how Motown stars on the road encountered segregation and discrimination which was till common in the mid 60s South – not so very long ago really - but the film doesn’t dwell on it. It’s just part of history now, which is a lesson in itself.

There’s even a small side story about the incredible Funk Brothers, musicians culled from Detroit jazz and blues clubs, to form the back up band that performed on more hit records than anyone in music history. They actually have their own documentary from a few years back that is also awesome. It’s available in full on Vimeo.

If you like music, musicians, business or just back stories you will love this documentary.

A fun film about a bunch of beautiful, talented people making some awesome music in an era of massive change both musically and socially. Unlike Rap and Hip Hop the music of Motown has the kind of staying power that will ensure it lives on in peoples’ personal playlists as well as movies and even commercials.

1986 California Raisins commercial: heard it through the grapevine

Available now: