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Francing In The Street: Motown Hits Paris

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Motown French EPs 1965 Packshot

When the Motortown Revue hit Paris on 13 April 1965, it was part of the legendary label’s big push to invade Europe and build on the international success of Mary Wells’ ‘My Guy’ and The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’ – the latter being the first Motown single to top the charts in the UK. As part of his efforts to establish a standalone identity abroad, Motown head Berry Gordy sent the Revue to the French capitol, recording their show at the Olympia for what became Recorded Live: Motortown Revue In Paris, released in the US at the end of the year.

Motortown Revue In Paris CoverGilles Pétard, co-author of the book Motown, Soul And Glamour, helped set up the label’s first French office in the 70s. As PledgeMusic and Universal work towards the release of Motortown Revue: Live In Paris – the first ever release of the entire 13 April 1965 show, with 12 previously unreleased tracks – plus Motortown Revue: The French EPs 1965, an exclusive PledgeMusic 7” box set featuring replicas of five key original French EP releases, Pétard gives uDiscover a unique insight into Motown’s French invasion:

The Paris show was one of Motown’s first overseas Revues. Why did Motown choose to stage a show in Paris before other European cities?
France (along with Italy and Spain) were difficult markets for Motown at the time. The Revue was a unique opportunity to introduce the French to the Motown sound. Motown’s management also thought that staging a concert in Paris in 1965 would be a prestigious event. The US live album release later in the year was proof of its success.

Asides from the show, what else did Motown do to get a foothold in France?
EMI, the record company representing Motown in France (and most other countries) in 1965, took the opportunity seriously and released a promo album called Introduction Au Tamla Motown Sound, which included a special book and an envelope full of photos. They also issued a commercial LP, The Big, Big Sound From Detroit, which featured, among others, Eddie Holland, Brenda Holloway and Kim Weston. It’s worth noting that the back cover to The Big, Big Sound From Detroit was the first time that Motown unveiled the names of all the great musicians that played on the sessions, thanks to the efforts of Kurt Mohr, a Swiss discographer, who was able to get Motown to open their files.

How was the Revue received by the press and the audience?
As Motown was hardly played on the radio at the time, most of those present heard the Motown sound for the first time that night. Discovering such great singers and musicians performing on such magical arrangements was overwhelming.

Listening back to these recordings today, what highlights stand out for you?
I must admit I always had a weakness for The Miracles, and here they’re unstoppable. Also, the instrumental version of ‘Too Many Fish In The Sea’ by Earl Van Dyke & The Soul Brothers (which actually included some of The Funk Brothers) was really exciting.

Motown 1965 French EPs

Motown’s French EPs are hugely sought-after in the UK, with some original pressings commanding over £200. What makes them so collectable today?
Some of these EPs did not sell at all at the time, which obviously makes them rare. On top of that, previously unseen colour photos were used on the covers, which adds to the allure.

And what made the EP – or “super 45” – so important in France at the time?
At that time, singles were only pressed for the jukebox market. As far as commercial 45rpm 7”s were concerned, everything was released on four-track EP up until 1968. That’s the decision the French music industry made in the early 50s. The covers were nicely designed and printed on thick cardboard, which made them look like small LPs.

Do you know of any planned French Motown releases back in the 60s that never got released?
Motown sent The Velvelettes to the studio to record some of their hits in French, under the direction of producer Pierre Jaubert. These didn’t see the light of day until 2004, when Universal released them on a Velvelettes double-CD.

Gilles Petard And Stevie Wonder, early 80s

Gilles Pétard with Stevie Wonder in the early 80s

You helped establish Motown’s first French office in the 70s. What was your aim?
Motown had gotten very little airplay in France. Only a couple of releases – like ‘Fingertips’ by Little Stevie Wonder, or ‘Baby Love’ by The Supremes – were exceptions. The first massive French Motown hits were The Temptations’ ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’. After that, we made sure Motown would get hit after hit.

And what would your dream Motown Revue line-up have been?
The Marvelettes, Marvin Gaye, Brenda Holloway, The Contours and Tammi Terrell

Recorded Live: Motortown Revue In Paris is out now.

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