Behind The Motortown Revue With Adam White
The highly anticipated live Motown album, Motortown Revue: Live In Paris, features liner notes written by the Grammy-nominated Motown historian and co-author of the forthcoming book, Motown: The Sound Of Young America. Featuring 12 previously unreleased tracks and capturing the magic of the Motown Revue’s appearance at Paris’ Olympia on 13 April 1965, the live album is, as White puts it, “an authentic, unfiltered souvenir of that extraordinary concert”. He adds: “I can’t think of any other Motown live album – especially since this is an unedited show – which comes so close to capturing the breadth and depth of talent which Berry Gordy and Motown found and developed.”
Thanks to his long-standing association with the label, White gives uDiscover a unique insight into these historic recordings:
At what juncture was Motown at when it sent the Revue to Europe in 1965?
Motown was growing like gangbusters, with 1964 being their most successful year to that point. The Supremes had broken through big time, with three consecutive No.1 singles on the Billboard charts, preceded by another No.1, Mary Wells’ ‘My Guy’. Just as importantly, as far as the world outside North America was concerned, ‘My Guy,’ ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ and ‘Baby Love’ were Motown’s first major international hits. (‘Baby Love’ was the company’s first UK No.1.) So Berry Gordy was very keen to capitalise on this, and to send the Revue across the Atlantic – and to establish the label’s own identity in Europe. Up to then, Motown’s European releases were issued under their licensees’ imprints: for example, EMI’s Stateside label in the UK, and Pathé-Marconi’s Columbia label in France. Berry thought the international success of the Mary Wells and Supremes singles gave him the opportunity to press the licensees to establish Tamla Motown abroad as a label in its own right (marrying the names of two of Motown’s separate US labels).
How ambitious an undertaking was it to get Motown over there?
Ambitious, indeed – and expensive. Motown negotiated with UK concert promoters Arthur Howes and Harold Davison for the UK tour, and with Bruno Coquatrix, owner of the Olympia, for the Paris show. Motown had sent a number of its artists overseas (mostly to the UK) in 1964 for promotional trips, so it had some interaction with media there, as well as the support of EMI. In late 1964, Kim Weston joined a UK tour by PJ Proby and several other acts. Also, Mary Wells was on The Beatles’ autumn UK tour in 1964 – but she had left Motown by that time.
In researching the liner notes for the release, did you make any discoveries about Motown that you’d never known before?
Nothing stands out, but that’s because I had already done a great deal of research about the tour for Motown: The Sound Of Young America, my forthcoming book (with Barney Ales) about the inside of the Motown machine. Barney was Berry Gordy’s business right-hand for more than 15 years at Motown: it was his job to get the records played and the company paid. The two of them went to Paris in March 1963 to check out European interest in their music, two years before the Olympia show.
What were the Revue’s stand-out moments for you?
I saw the Motortown Revue in Bristol, on the first shows outside of London on the UK tour. For me, everything was a standout, because I could hardly believe I was seeing all my idols, live, in front of me. I understand that the two London shows were sell-outs, but outside the capital, the dates were not as well attended, and the early shows (the Revue performed twice nightly in the UK) often only had a handful of people in the audience.
When you first heard the unreleased material on this box set, what struck you the most?
Martha & The Vandellas’ ‘Heat Wave’ is probably the standout for me among the unreleased tracks. It has such power and energy – even though Martha later said she was tired after all the UK gigs – and it was their major US breakthrough hit in 1963. It also happened to be the first Motown record I bought – and it was the first Motown record released by EMI under its first deal with the Detroit firm in 1963.
PledgeMusic are also releasing a EP box set replicating five original French 7” issued by Little Stevie Wonder (Tears In Vain), The Miracles (Ooo Baby Baby), The Supremes (Stop! In The Name Of Love), Earl Van Dyke (Soul Stomp) and Martha And The Vandellas (Nowhere To Run). How faithfully do the sleeves in the box set replicate those of the original French EPs?
They replicate the original French artwork of the time, including the musician credits shown on the Earl Van Dyke EP, which was something Motown didn’t put on its US album releases until 1971!
Some of those original Motown EPs command over £200 these days. What makes them so collectable?
These particular EPs are collectible because of their artwork, content and the fact that most of them were unique to France, where there wasn’t really a singles market at that time. In each case, Pathé-Marconi packaged together four tracks from the Motown artists, generally the A- and B-sides of two separate singles.
Motortown Revue: Live In Paris is out on 25 March.