"Motown songwriters made it seem simple. A note here. A word there. A track to keep. A key to change.  Multiply that thousands of times over two decades.  Then consider the hundreds of millions of fans who took those Motown songs to heart and feet. The wild prosperity of a minority enterprise that 1960s America couldn't dismiss. The jubilant, wistful, obsessive, or tender black passions whose universality the world now embraced. All that over some three-minute tunes?


The art didn't get lost in the numbers or historical import. Chart dominance is fleeting. But rich melodies and evocative phrases will resonate for as long as humans feel. Motown songwriters, producers, and arrangers certainly struck more than a chord. So what distinguishes one behind-the-scenes artisan's craft from another's?


In a nutshell:

*Composers write music.

*Lyricists write words.

*Songwriters do either or both, usually for shorter, poppier projects than those on pure composers' agendas.

*Producers oversee the proper performance, mix, and marketability of the music. Due to commercial concerns, they're especially hands-on in the pop realm.

*Arrangers adapt existing pieces' lengths, tempos, moods, and other aspects to particular performers.

*Then there are the techies! Sound engineers record and mix tracks with their technical skills and producers' creative guidance.


Time for some Motown oldies songwriters, producers, and arrangers to make their appearance (in somewhat chronological order).  Are you ready?


Berry Gordy, Jr.

  • Positions at Motown: Founder, president, songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Marv Johnson, Smokey Robinson, The Corporation
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Barrett Strong ("Money (That's What I Want)")
    • The Miracles ("Shop Around")
    • The Contours ("Do You Love Me")
    • The Jackson 5 ("I Want You Back," "The Love You Save")

William "Smokey" Robinson

  • Positions at Motown: Songwriter, producer, vice president
  • Partners Included: Berry Gordy (mentor), Miracles Ronnie White, Pete Moore, Bobby Rogers, and Marv Tarplin
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • The Miracles ("Ooo Baby Baby," "The Tracks of My Tears")
    • Mary Wells ("You Beat Me to the Punch," "My Guy")
    • The Temptations ("The Way You Do the Things You Do," "My Girl")
    • The Marvelettes ("The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game")
    • Marvin Gaye ("Ain't That Peculiar")
    • Himself ("Being With You")

Janie Bradford

  • Positions at Motown: Receptionist, songwriter
  • Partners Included: Berry Gordy, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Barrett Strong ("Money (That's What I Want)")
    • The Supremes ("Time Changes Things")
    • Carolyn Crawford ("My Smile is Just a Frown (Turned Upside Down)")
    • Stevie Wonder ("Contract on Love")
    • Marvin Gaye ("Too Busy Thinking About My Baby")

William "Mickey" Stevenson

  • Positions at Motown: Artists and Repertoire director, songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Berry Gordy, George Gordy, Marvin Gaye, Norman Whitfield, Clarence Paul, Ivy Jo Hunter, Barrett Strong
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • The Marvelettes ("Beechwood 4-5789")
    • Marvin Gaye ("Stubborn Kind of Fellow")
    • Martha and the Vandellas ("Dancing in the Street")
    • The Velvelettes ("Needle in a Haystack")
    • Jimmy Ruffin ("What Becomes of the Brokenhearted")
    • Kim Weston (wife) ("It Takes Two")

Harvey Fuqua

  • Positions at Motown: Artist Development director, songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Johnny Bristol, Vernon Bullock
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough")
    • Diana Ross and the Supremes ("Someday We'll Be Together")
    • David Ruffin ("My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me)")
    • Jr. Walker and the All Stars ("What Does It Take (to Win Your Love)")

Johnny Bristol

Motown songwriter: Johnny Bristol

  • Positions at Motown: Songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Harvey Fuqua, Vernon Bullock
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough")
    • Diana Ross and the Supremes ("Someday We'll Be Together")
    • David Ruffin ("My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me)")
    • Jr. Walker and the All Stars ("What Does It Take (to Win Your Love)")
    • Gladys Knight and the Pips ("Daddy Could Swear, I Declare")

Barrett Strong

Barrett Strong

  • Positions at Motown: Singer, songwriter (lyricist), producer
  • Partners Included: Norman Whitfield, Roger Penzabene
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Gladys Knight and the Pips ("I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me")
    • Marvin Gaye ("I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby")
    • The Temptations ("I Can't Get Next to You," "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World is Today)")
    • Edwin Starr ("War")
    • The Undisputed Truth ("Smiling Faces Sometimes")

Brianbert

  • Members and Positions at Motown:
    • Brian Holland: Engineer, songwriter (composer), producer, Quality Control director
    • Robert Bateman: Personal assistant to Berry Gordy, talent scout, engineer, arranger, songwriter, producer
  • Worked With Singers Like: The Marvelettes ("Please Mr. Postman")

Marvin Gaye

  • Positions at Motown: Singer, session drummer, songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: George Gordy (brother-in-law), Mickey Stevenson, Norman Whitfield, Anna Gaye (wife), Art Stewart (engineer), Elgie Stover, James
    Nyx, David Van DePitte (arranger), Ed Townsend, Arthur Ross, Leon Ware
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Himself ("Pride and Joy," What's Going On, I Want You)
    • Martha and the Vandellas ("Dancing in the Street")
    • The Originals ("Baby I'm for Real")

Clarence Paul

  • Positions at Motown: A&R assistant to Mickey Stevenson, songwriter, producer, arranger
  • Partners Included: Stevie Wonder, Hank Cosby, Morris Broadnax, Mickey Stevenson
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Stevie Wonder ("Fingertips, Pt. 2," cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind")
    • Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye ("What's the Matter With You Baby")
    • Martha and the Vandellas ("You've Been in Love Too Long")

Henry "Hank" Cosby

  • Positions at Motown: Saxophonist, songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Clarence Paul, Stevie Wonder, Sylvia Moy
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Stevie Wonder ("Uptight (Everything's Alright)," "My Cherie Amour")
    • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles ("The Tears of a Clown")
    • Diana Ross and the Supremes ("I'm Livin' in Shame")

Sylvia Moy

  • Positions at Motown: Songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Hank Cosby, Stevie Wonder, Mickey Stevenson, Vernon Bullock, Shorty Long
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Stevie Wonder ("My Cherie Amour," "I Was Made to Love Her")
    • Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston ("It Takes Two")
    • Shorty Long ("Here Comes Fat Albert")

Holland-Dozier-Holland

Motown songwriters: HDH

  • Members and Positions at Motown:
    • Brian Holland: Engineer, songwriter (composer), producer, Quality Control director
    • Lamont Dozier: Singer, songwriter (composer-lyricist), producer
    • Eddie Holland: Singer, songwriter (lyricist), producer, A&R director
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Martha and the Vandellas ("(Love is Like a) Heat Wave," "Nowhere to Run")
    • The Four Tops ("Baby I Need Your Loving," "Bernadette")
    • The Supremes ("Where Did Our Love Go," "You Can't Hurry Love")
    • Marvin Gaye ("How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You)")
    • Jr. Walker and the All Stars ("(I'm a) Road Runner")
    • The Elgins ("Heaven Must Have Sent You")
    • The Isley Brothers ("This Old Heart of Mine (is Weak for You)")
    • Chris Clark ("Love's Gone Bad")

Norman Whitfield

Norman Whitfield

  • Positions at Motown: A&R assistant, Quality Control assistant, songwriter, producer, arranger
  • Partners Included: Mickey Stevenson, Marvin Gaye, Eddie Holland, Barrett Strong, Roger Penzabene
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Marvin Gaye ("Pride and Joy")
    • The Velvelettes ("Needle in a Haystack")
    • The Temptations ("Ain't Too Proud to Beg," "Cloud Nine")
    • Gladys Knight and the Pips ("I Heard It Through the Grapevine")
    • Edwin Starr ("War")
    • The Undisputed Truth ("Smiling Faces Sometimes")

Ivy Jo Hunter

  • Positions at Motown: Singer, songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Mickey Stevenson
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Martha and the Vandellas ("Dancing in the Street")
    • The Four Tops ("Ask the Lonely")
    • The Marvelettes ("Danger, Heartbreak Dead Ahead")
    • The Temptations ("Sorry is a Sorry Word")

Paul Riser

  • Positions at Motown: Songwriter, producer, arranger
  • Partners Included: Lula Mae Hardaway, Don Hunter, Stevie Wonder, William Weatherspoon, James Dean
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Jimmy Ruffin ("What Becomes of the Brokenhearted")
    • Stevie Wonder ("Don't Know Why," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)")
    • Diana Ross and the Supremes ("Love Child")
    • Diana Ross ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough")
    • Gladys Knight and the Pips ("If I Were Your Woman")

Frederick "Shorty" Long

  • Positions at Motown: Singer, pianist, songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Mickey Stevenson, Eddie Holland, Sylvia Moy
  • Worked With Singers Like: Himself ("Here Comes the Judge")

Junior Walker, aka Autry DeWalt, Jr.

  • Positions at Motown: Saxophonist, songwriter, singer
  • Partners Included: Harvey Fuqua, Willie Woods, Lawrence Horn (engineer)
  • Worked With Singers Like: Jr. Walker and the All Stars ("Shotgun," "Shake and Fingerpop")

Ron Miller

  • Positions at Motown: Songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Orlando Murden, Bryan Wells, Michael Masser
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Stevie Wonder ("For Once in My Life," "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday")
    • Diana Ross ("Touch Me in the Morning")

The Clan

  • Members: R. Dean Taylor, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer, Deke Richards
  • Positions at Motown: Songwriters, producers
  • Worked With Singers Like: Diana Ross and the Supremes ("Love Child")

Frank Wilson

Frank Wilson

  • Positions at Motown: Songwriter, producer, singer
  • Partners Included: Norman Whitfield (mentor), The Clan, Pam Sawyer, David Van DePitte (arranger), Smokey Robinson
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • The Temptations ("All I Need")
    • Marvin Gaye ("Chained")
    • The Supremes ("Up the Ladder to the Roof," "Stoned Love")
    • Brenda Holloway ("You've Made Me So Very Happy")
    • The Four Tops ("Still Water (Love)," "Still Water (Peace)")
    • Eddie Kendricks ("Boogie Down," "Keep on Truckin'")

Pam Sawyer

  • Positions at Motown: Songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: The Clan, Frank Wilson, Joe Hinton, Gloria Jones, Michael Masser
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Diana Ross and the Supremes ("Love Child")
    • Diana Ross ("Last Time I Saw Him")
    • Gladys Knight and the Pips ("If I Were Your Woman")

Al Cleveland

  • Positions at Motown: Songwriter, producer
  • Partners Included: Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles ("I Second That Emotion," "Baby, Baby Don't Cry")
    • Marvin Gaye (What's Going On)

Ashford and Simpson

Ashford and Simpson

  • Members: Nickolas Ashford (lyricist, husband), Valerie Simpson (composer, wife)
  • Positions at Motown: Songwriters, producers, singers
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell ("Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing")
    • Diana Ross ("Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)")

The Corporation

  • Members: Freddie Perren, Alphonso Mizell, Berry Gordy, Deke Richards
  • Positions at Motown: Songwriters, producers, arrangers
  • Worked With Singers Like: The Jackson 5 ("I Want You Back," "The Love You Save")

Stevie Wonder

  • Positions at Motown: Singer, harmonica player, bongos player, drummer, pianist, synthesizer player, songwriter, producer, arranger
  • Partners Included: Clarence Paul, Hank Cosby, Sylvia Moy, Morris Broadnax, Don Hunter, Paul Riser, Lula Mae Hardaway (mom), Paul Bollenback, Syreeta
    Wright (lyricist, wife)
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Himself ("Uptight (Everything's Alright)," Innervisions)
    • Martha and the Vandellas ("Nobody'll Care")
    • Marvin Gaye ("You're the One for Me")
    • The Four Tops ("Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever")
    • Smokey Robinson and the Miracles ("The Tears of a Clown")
    • The Spinners ("It's a Shame")
    • Syreeta Wright (Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta)

Syreeta Wright, aka Rita Wright

Syreeta Wright

  • Positions at Motown: Receptionist, singer, songwriter (lyricist)
  • Partners Included: Stevie Wonder (husband)
  • Worked With Singers Like:
    • Stevie Wonder ("Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)")
    • The Spinners ("It's a Shame")
    • Herself (Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta)"
In YOUR opinion, what are some of the best MOTOWN lyrics ever written?  Fee free to post lyrics or videos.

Tags: best, lyrics, motown, songwriters

Views: 235

Replies to This Discussion

yes...
Last month I enjoyed watching Unsung "The Tammi Terrell" story. Her life was so bitter sweet. It is unfortunate we lost a great voice and talent like hers.
We're on the same page, Lynetta, where Smokey Robinson is concerned. I'm not sure if he wrote this one, but the lyrics of "The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage" are typical of his kind of sophisticated writing.
Owww, Ken - Nobody has a way with words like Smokey! When you consider todays' explicit lyrics, it was just magical the way Smokey could write a song about making love and made it so romantic! It's no secret that one of those songs by Smokey is a favorite of mine: I've Made Love To You A Thousand Times

This song used to be on YouTube but I haven't been able to find it. Gotta see if I can get Randy to post it on YouTube for me... **hint, hint!
Your wish is my command!

Nice, as usual.
One writer, one song, many covers. A true testament to the greatness of the writer and his abilities. Go Smokey!

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