Soul Serenade: Motown, The Sound Of Young America

Written by Ken Shane's Soul Serenade, Music

A splendid new visual history of the legendary soul label

Motown collage

Soul Serenade - MotownEvery year in December many websites, including Popdose, publish holiday gift-giving guides. I’ve even written a few myself, recommending good music, books, and film for the people on your Christmas list. Record companies and publishers like to release their latest packages in the last few months of the year to take advantage of this kind of publicity.

Personally, I’m not much of an early Christmas shopper. But this year a book has been released that would be the perfect gift for anyone who reads this column, as well as like-minded loved ones and friends. I know what you’re thinking — why is this guy talking about Christmas when it was just Labor Day? Believe me, I feel your pain, but I had to make an exception this one time.

Motown: The Sound of Young America is a big book, weighing in at five pounds, and nearly 400 pages in length. It was written by Adam White, who has written for publications like Rolling Stone, was editor-in-chief of Billboard Magazine, and served as a vice-president at Universal Music Group International. His collaborator is Barney Ales, who was Berry Gordy’s right-hand man for many years. It is the participation of Ales that allows us an insider’s look at the extraordinary story of Motown Records. There is also a forward by Andrew Loog Oldham, who managed the Rolling Stones for four crucial years in the 1960s.

Motown records

The book is described as a “visual history” of the legendary soul label, and that’s something of an understatement. The photographs included in this book are extraordinary. Even if you think you know everything about Motown, there are photos here that you’ve never seen. My favorite Motown group is the Temptations, and what a joy to see photos of all of their more than 20 big hit records laid out on one page. Similar treatment is afforded to the Supremes, the Four Tops, and other stars of the Motown firmament.

There are backstage and onstage photos of Motown stars on tour in Europe, and elsewhere; pages full of photos of album covers; candid shots and others from formal photo sessions. On the day this book arrived I pored over the photos for hours, turning page after page. I literally could not get my head out of this book, and you won’t be able to either.

Motown: The Sound of Young America is not all photos however. The story of Motown is told with insights derived from dozens of interviews with key figures in the rise of Motown from a small, family-owned business into a popular music Goliath, home to artists like Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, and many more.

So yes, it’s a little early for Christmas shopping, but go out and get Motown: The Sound of Young America for yourself, and while you’re at it, grab a copy for a friend. You will be a very popular person this holiday season.