Hitsville: The Making of Motown

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Benjamin Turner Gabe Turner

Starring

Berry Gordy Miller London Smokey Robinson

Anticipation.

Get ready.

Enjoyment.

You’ve really got a hold on me.

In Retrospect.

Dancing in the street.

Berry Gordy leads a roster of iconic artists in paying tribute to one of the most successful record companies of the 20th century.

Hitsville, USA. With the exception of Abbey Road, no place has had a more profound impact on popular music over the last 50 years. In Benjamin and Gabe Turner’s entertaining new documentary, Berry Gordy, the man behind it all, takes us on a tour of his old stomping ground, the hallowed Motown Records headquarters in Detroit.

As a songwriter Gordy enjoyed moderate success before setting up his own stable of soul and R&B artists in the late ’50s and early ’60s: Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross… the list goes on. The film starts out as a sort of misty-eyed self-tribute, as Gordy rifles through his own greatest hits catalogue fondly recalling the music and moments that defined his company. But crucially every sparkling anecdote contains valuable insight into how some of Motown’s most iconic records were made.

Early on, Robinson recalls being woken up by Berry in the middle of the night, fretting over the pair’s latest single. They rushed back into the studio at 3am to lay down a new version of the track, despite it having already been put out several weeks earlier. ‘Shop Around’ went on to become the label’s first single to sell over a million copies; such was Gordy’s perfectionism and commitment to ensuring that every release had that unmistakable “Motown sound”.

Then there’s the story of Martha Reeves, the accidental superstar whose transformation from A&R secretary to chart-topping diva occurred virtually overnight after she took the mic during an impromptu track recording. Elsewhere, flickery black-and-white footage of The Temptations and a group of session musicians recording ‘My Girl’ is nothing short of electrifying – just one of many astonishing archive scenes that will stay with you.

More pertinently, the film eventually segues from being a celebration of musical talent (not to mention business acumen) into a requiem for a city that once stood proudly at the centre of American industry and culture, but which has sadly become a shorthand for terminal economic and social rot. How sweet it is to be reminded of the good times.

Published 2 Oct 2019

Tags: Benjamin Turner Gabe Turner

Anticipation.

Get ready.

Enjoyment.

You’ve really got a hold on me.

In Retrospect.

Dancing in the street.

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