11 of the greatest songs in Motown the Musical
Since the 1960s, the music of Motown has entertained audiences around the world. Motown the Musical tells the story of Berry Gordy, a boxer turned record producer who started with $800 in his pocket, starting a record label which would later see him as one of the leading music producers in the world. The musical has an exciting soundtrack that features songs from Motown legends including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. Celebrate Motown the Musical and take a listen to some of the biggest, boldest songs in the show.
Songs in Motown the Musical
ABC – The Jackson 5
Released by The Jackson 5 in 1970, “ABC” is one of the group’s most-known songs. Knocking The Beatles off the top spot in the US charts, the song featured on their second album and they performed it live on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the most popular chat shows in the 1960s. Even though The Jackson 5 were only with Motown Records for five years, they had 16 top forty singles with the record label including “I Want You Back” and “Can You Feel It”.
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
One of the earliest Motown hits, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and has been recognised as one of the greatest songs to be released under Motown Records. This love song was first released in 1966 and has since been performed by numerous artists, including Diana Ross, Michael Bolton and Kelly Rowland.
Baby Love – Diana Ross and the Supremes
Topping the charts on both sides of the pond, “Baby Love” was released in 1964, with Berry Gordy wanting the song to be another success for his record company similar to their earlier song “Where Did Our Love Go”. Performed by The Supremes, Diana Ross sings the lead vocal in this romantic, easy listening Motown hit. When this song got to number one, The Supremes became the first Motown act to have more than one number-one single, going on to be the most successful Motown act in the charts, with 12 number ones.
Dancing in the Street – Martha Reeves and The Vandellas
Later becoming an anthem of the civil rights movement in America, “Dancing in the Street” was released as a feel-good record for the Motown label. The song is about Detroit, the home of Motown’s “Hitsville USA” recording studio. Even though people would dance to this song around the world, the Detroit references are clear with lyrics such as “can’t forget the motor city”; Detroit famously the old motor city of America.
Do You Love Me – The Contours
Featuring dance crazes such as the “mashed potato” and “the twist” in the lyrics, “Do You Love Me” was The Contours most successful song. Released in 1962, Berry Gordy wrote the song for The Temptations, believing that it would be a smash-hit for the group. With a spoken opening, it was a different style of Motown record, but it saved the band from being dropped by the label.
I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) – The Four Tops
Staying at number one on the charts for two weeks, Motown listeners couldn’t help themselves but listen to this song on repeat when it was released in 1965. The song tells of the love between the lead singer, Levi Stubbs as he confesses his love to a woman. Sounding similar to The Supremes “Where Did Our Love Go” a year earlier, this record was a big success for The Four Tops, who continued to release records until 1988.
I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye
One of the classic soul records, Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” released in 1968 reached number one in the UK and America. There was initial controversy over the record, with Berry Gordy blocking the initial release as he didn’t believe it was good enough for a Motown record. Failing the first level of quality control, the song was then put onto Marvin Gaye’s album Into the Groove. When it was played so much on the radio, Gordy felt pressured into releasing it as a single. Upon its release, it was loved around the world and reached the top 100 in Rolling Stones greatest songs of all time.
My Girl – The Temptations
A smooth Motown record, “My Girl” was the most successful record for The Temptations, getting the top spot in the music charts in 1965. This soul record was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, recognised for being culturally, historically and artistically significant. The Temptations won a Grammy Award with this song and were the first Motown act to do so.
Reet Petite, Jackie Wilson
An important song in Motown’s history, as the commercial success of “Reet Petite” meant Berry Gordy earned enough money to begin the process of developing his record label. “Reet Petite” was Jackie Wilson’s first record and it only reached number 62 in the Billboard Hot 100 when it was released in 1957. However, the song did top the charts in 1986, with people buying and listening to the song after he passed away.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) – Stevie Wonder
Compiling a list of the greatest hits in Motown the Musical wouldn’t be complete without a Stevie Wonder hit. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)” spent six weeks at number one when it was released in 1970, and was the first song Stevie Wonder produced by himself. With a catalogue of songs including “Superstition”, “Sir Duke” and “Uptight”, Wonder is one of the most successful Motown performers.
War – Edwin Starr
Recorded in 1970, “War” was an anti-Vietnam War song, sung by Edwin Starr, previously a band member of The Temptations. Later covered by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Bruce Springsteen, it was a popular protest tune, which was put into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. After the song’s initial success, Edwin Starr became known as an outspoken artist, who would regularly voice his opinions to large audiences.