Berry Gordy’s Five Best Songs


Berry Gordy is an iconic figure in music. In 1959 he founded Tamla Records and the following year became Motown Record Corporation. Perhaps the most important American label of all time, Motown has helped put soul on the map.

Without the tremendous cultural advancements Motown has made, music would be a whole different beast than it is today. Based in Detroit, the name was an engine and city coat rack, and after Motown’s huge successes, it would become a popular nickname for the city of Michigan.

Gordy was born in Detroit in 1929 and dropped out of school in Grade 11 to become a professional boxer. Hoping to get rich quickly, coming from a middle-class African American background, he boxed until 1950 when he was drafted into the US military to serve in the bloody Korean War.

He served in Korea from May 1952 to April 1953 and graduated from high school in the process. As an interesting note, Gordy is a distant relative of former US President Jimmy Carter, both of their fatherly roots going back to the same Georgia Slave plantation.

When Gordy returned from Korea in 1953, he married Thelma Coleman in Toledo, Ohio. He always had a keen interest in music and developed it by opening the 3-D Record Mart, a record store specializing in jazz music and 3-D glasses. It was the 1950s, after all. The business turned out to be unsuccessful, so Gordy found work at the local Lincoln-Mercury auto plant. Fortunately, his father’s connections in the Michigan music scene put him in touch with Al Green (not that one), who owned the Flame Show Bar Talent Club.

It was at the club where he met legendary singer Jackie Wilson, and soon Gordy would find the hits he had been seeking for so long. In 1957 Wilson released “Reet Petite,” a song Gordy co-wrote with his sister Gwen and producer Billy Davis. It was a modest success in the US, but it made waves in the UK and reached the top ten on the Singles Chart.

Progressing in his songwriting, Gordy reinvested the profits back into production. In 1957, he discovered the R&B troupe Les Miracles and quickly built up a list of artists. It was Miracles frontman Smokey Robinson who encouraged Gordy to start his own label, and with Robinson’s support, he borrowed $ 800 from his family to set up Tamla records.

Gordy quickly discovered that he had a knack for finding and nurturing musical talent, as well as an understanding of artist management. During the 1960s, Motown became a cultural institution in America, and Gordy actually made some of America’s most influential artists through his writing and management. In the 1960s, he was behind the hits of The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and many more.

Without Gordy’s efforts, today’s music would be stripped of some of its most important facets, a huge testament to his work. So, on the occasion of his 92nd birthday, we have listed his top five songs, so you can relax and enjoy the beauty of Motown. Classic after classic, this list is sure to be a joyful experience.

The five best songs of Berry Gordy:

“Try it baby” – Marvin Gaye

One of Marvin Gaye’s early classics, this R&B number is uniquely Motown. Funky, soulful, and confident, you just can’t beat the sultry tones of the late Marvin Gaye. Famous, Gaye and Gordy were brothers-in-law, and this track written by Gordy is one of his best from the early days of Motown.

The song is about a woman who “goes up” and “leaves (her man) behind”. Another classic part of the track is that The Temptations provided the warm backing vocals, even though they had just hit their own creative beat. Interestingly, “Try It Baby” was picked up in 1968 in conjunction with The Supremes and The Temptations, and it’s awesome.

“I live in shame” – Diana Ross & the Supremes

One of the Supremes’ most iconic hits, this 1969 release was the sequel to their 1968 number one, “Love Child.” Massive chorus, it is without doubt one of the most beautiful moments of Gordy.

Inspired by the plot of the 1959 film Imitation of life, he explores the quest for a “child of love” fleeing his family and his mother. You just can’t beat the Supremes.

“I want you to come back” – The Jackson 5

The first single from The Jackson 5 is the song that first put Michael Jackson and his siblings together. On the map.

The chord progression Gordy wrote is one of the most revered of all time, and in music theory it is constantly praised for the emotional character it has. It’s also one of the most sampled songs of all time, and perhaps Gordy’s most famous work.

“Do you love me” – The contours

An R&B staple and one of Motown’s longest lasting hits, every time this track is played the dance floors are filled. Summoning the madness of the day’s dance, the mashed potatoes and the twist, it’s sure to have you on your feet in seconds.

Originally intended for The Temptations, it landed with The Contours who made it theirs. It also features the brilliant music of James Jamerson and Co. who brought the music to life.

“All I could do was cry” – Etta James

One of Motown’s first outings, Etta James is unmatched on this entry. Her powerful, gushing voice set a precedent for all who followed, including Adele.

Inspired by heartbreak, as with every Etta James song, it’s a slower doo-wop infused number that makes you yearn for your loved ones. Prepare the handkerchiefs.

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