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Motown's All-Time Top 50: Discuss

DIANA, STEVIE, LIONEL STAND TALL – JACKSON 5, TOO

 

In about three months’ time, the celebrations will begin.

Whatever form they take – preferably, much playing of the music – the 60th anniversary of Motown Records next year will be remarkable enough. And only the pedants among us will note that the firm’s first release on January 19, 1959, was actually on Tamla and that the Motown label [That’s enough—Ed.].

It’s likely that recollections, judgement and statistics will be in abundance in 2019, especially when the new, forthcoming documentary offers its perspective on the company’s history and achievements. Meanwhile, here’s a tabulation of Motown’s most popular singles – the format that was the engine of its success and influence – in America, based on the chart which reflected that popularity every week: the Billboard Hot 100.

   Diana: 36 weeks atop the mountain

Diana: 36 weeks atop the mountain

The top 50 below is derived from Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, the book by longtime chart authority Fred Bronson. You may recognise his name as the author of The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, another excellent endeavour. I know him as a good friend of more than 40 years, as a professional colleague from our shared association with Billboard, and as the co-author of The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits with (ahem) yours truly.

Forty-three of the singles in this list reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Diana Ross can be heard on 13 of them: as lead singer of the Supremes, as a solo artist, and as Lionel Richie’s duet partner on the biggest chart hit in Motown history under Berry Gordy’s leadership, “Endless Love.” In total, Diana spent 36 weeks at the top with those 13 singles.

Stevie Wonder has seven singles in the top 50, six of which reached No.1, where he spent 12 weeks. (He wrote those six, too.) The Jackson 5 have six in the ranking, four of which reached the summit, where they spent 10 weeks in total. Lionel Richie can be heard on seven chart-toppers, including two by the Commodores, and this gave him a total of 21 weeks at No. 1.

Lionel is also king of the songwriters here: his work was at No. 1 for an impressive 24 weeks, more than any other tunesmith. And the boss? Well, copyrights co-written by Berry Gordy spent ten weeks at the top; all were recorded by the Jackson 5. Another Gordy song, which he also produced, is No. 50: “Do You Love Me” by the Contours.

Before you scroll down further, be reminded that this table of music milestones is based on Billboard chart performance, not on record sales, although there’s obviously a strong correlation. Gordy’s company – like its competitors – did not often make the specific sales figures of hit singles or albums publicly available, although artists and executives would periodically claim millions of sales for this record or that. At other times, figures emerged in lawsuits.

NO RIAA CERTIFICATION, THANK YOU

Moreover, Motown did not belong to the Recording Industry Association of America for many years. This trade group would, on request, certify sales of member companies’ hits, which led to singles and albums gaining official gold, platinum or multi-platinum status. During its 1960s and ’70s heyday, Motown had little or nothing to do with the RIAA. In the ’80s, when Jay Lasker was the record company’s president, a number of its singles and albums were sales-certified.

  All of which means that the Billboard charts – specifically, the Hot 100 – are the best-available measure of Motown’s most popular 45s. As Fred Bronson notes, the chart has always been an amalgam of sales and airplay. “That was the reason the chart was created in 1958,” he explains in Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, “to have one singles chart that was based on how many copies of a single were sold in a given week, combined with how many times the single was played on the radio.” For decades, that was tracked manually by Billboard, which sourced the information from retailers and radio stations across the U.S.

   Stevie: six at the summit

Stevie: six at the summit

Bronson’s book tabulates the biggest hits of other record companies, as well as those of individual artists, songwriters and producers. (I’ve just extracted Motown, for obvious reasons.) His methodology assigns points to each single, based on its Hot 100 chart position each week. Thus, the higher that position, the more points a record gains, and the longer it stays on the chart, the more points it accumulates.

Here, though, I’ve limited the top 50 to singles released while Motown was under Gordy’s ownership from 1959 to 1988. Its later best-sellers (by Boyz II Men, in particular) are not included, but are ranked in the published edition of Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits, where the Motown account runs to 100 positions.

It’s worth noting, too, that hits tended to remain longer on the Hot 100 during the ’70s and beyond, compared to the 1960s. Five of the top ten singles in the list which follows were issued in the 1980s, three in the ’70s and two in the ’60s. Thus, classic records such as “Shop Around,” “My Girl” and “Dancing In The Street” are below the top 50.

  As mentioned above, Motown’s single greatest success on the charts was with 1981’s “Endless Love.” This was certified platinum – as such, the RIAA requirement was sales of two million copies -- in October that year, three months after its release and two months after its gold certification for sales of one million. During its 27 weeks on the Hot 100, “Endless Love” spent nine at No. 1, the longest occupancy for a Motown release during 1959-88. The runner-up, Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” was on the charts for 15 weeks, including seven at No. 1. Motown never applied for its gold or platinum certification.

Anyway, you’ll have your own opinions about the top 50 singles, starting right here and equipping you for conversations to come when “The Sound of Young America” turns (gulp) 60. Newly added, as of October 1, are each song’s writers and producers.

 

1. ENDLESS LOVE, Diana Ross & Lionel Richie

Hot 100 peak: 1 (9 weeks, 1981)

Chart weeks: 27

Lionel Richie (PR: Lionel Richie)

 

2. I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE, Marvin Gaye

Hot 100 peak: 1 (7 weeks, 1968-69)

Chart weeks: 15

Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong (PR: Norman Whitfield)

 

3. I’LL BE THERE, Jackson 5

Hot 100 peak: 1 (5 weeks, 1970)

Chart weeks: 16

Berry Gordy/Bob West/Willie Hutch/Hal Davis (PR: Hal Davis)

 

4. ALL NIGHT LONG (ALL NIGHT), Lionel Richie

Hot 100 peak: 1 (4 weeks, 1983)

Chart weeks: 24

Lionel Richie (PR: Lionel Richie/James Anthony Carmichael)

 

5. UPSIDE DOWN, Diana Ross

Hot 100 peak: 1 (4 weeks, 1980)

Chart weeks: 29

Bernard Edwards/Nile Rodgers (PR: Bernard Edwards/Nile Rodgers)

 

6. THREE TIMES A LADY, Commodores

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1978)

Chart weeks: 20

Lionel Richie (PR: Commodores/James Anthony Carmichael)

 

7. LET’S GET IT ON, Marvin Gaye

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1973)

Chart weeks: 19

Marvin Gaye/Ed Townsend (PR: Marvin Gaye/Ed Townsend)

 

8. SAY YOU, SAY ME, Lionel Richie

Hot 100 peak: 1 (4 weeks, 1985-86)

Chart weeks: 20

Lionel Richie (PR: Lionel Richie/James Anthony Carmichael)

 

9. LOVE CHILD, Diana Ross & Supremes

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1968)

Chart weeks: 16

Pam Sawyer/R. Dean Taylor/Frank Wilson/Deke Richards (PR: The Clan)

 

10. HELLO, Lionel Richie (1984)

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1984)

Chart weeks: 24

Lionel Richie (PR: Lionel Richie/James Anthony Carmichael)

 

11. I JUST CALLED TO SAY I LOVE YOU, Stevie Wonder

Hot 100 peak: 1 (3 weeks, 1984)

Chart weeks: 26

Stevie Wonder (PR: Stevie Wonder)

 

12. ABC, Jackson 5

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1970)

Chart weeks: 13

Berry Gordy/Fonce Mizell/Freddie Perren/Deke Richards (PR: The Corporation)

 

13. WAR, Edwin Starr

Hot 100 peak: 1 (3 weeks, 1970)

Chart weeks: 15

Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong (PR: Norman Whitfield)

 

14. WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO, Supremes

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1964)

Chart weeks: 14

Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland (PR: Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier)

 

15. BEING WITH YOU, Smokey Robinson

Hot 100 peak: 2 (3 weeks, 1981)

Chart weeks: 25

Smokey Robinson (PR: George Tobin)

 

16. AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH, Diana Ross

Hot 100 peak: 1 (3 weeks, 1970)

Chart weeks: 14

Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson (PR: Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson)

 

17. I CAN’T HELP MYSELF (SUGAR PIE, HONEY BUNCH), Four Tops

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1965)

Chart weeks: 14

Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Edde Holland (PR: Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier)

 

18. BABY LOVE, Supremes

Hot 100 peak: 1 (4 weeks, 1964)

Chart weeks: 13

Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland (PR: Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier)

 

19. THE TEARS OF A CLOWN, Smokey Robinson & Miracles

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1970)

Chart weeks: 16

Henry Cosby/Smokey Robinson/Stevie Wonder (PR: Henry Cosby/Stevie Wonder)

 

20. FINGERTIPS – PT. 2, Little Stevie Wonder

Hot 100 peak: 1 (3 weeks, 1963)

Chart weeks: 15

Clarence Paul/Henry Cosby (PR: Berry Gordy)

 

21. COME SEE ABOUT ME, Supremes

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1964-65)

Chart weeks: 14

Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland (PR: Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier)

 

22. I WANT YOU BACK, Jackson 5

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1970)

Chart weeks: 19

Berry Gordy/Fonce Mizell/Freddie Perren/Deke Richards (PR: The Corporation)

 

23. JUST MY IMAGINATION (RUNNING AWAY WTH ME), Temptations

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1971)

Chart weeks: 15

Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong (PR: Norman Whitfield)

 

24. STOP! IN THE NAME OF LOVE, Supremes

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1965)

Chart weeks: 12

Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland (PR: Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier)

 

25. THE LOVE YOU SAVE, Jackson 5

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1970)

Chart weeks: 13

Berry Gordy/Fonce Mizell/Freddie Perren/Deke Richards (PR: The Corporation)

 

26. SOMEDAY WE’LL BE TOGETHER, Diana Ross & Supremes

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1969)

Chart weeks: 16

Jackey Beavers/Johnny Bristol/Harvey Fuqua (PR: Johnny Bristol)

 

27. STILL, Commodores

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1979)

Chart weeks: 20

Lionel Richie (PR: Commodores/James Anthony Carmichael)

 

28. KEEP ON TRUCKIN’ (PART 1), Eddie Kendricks

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1973)

Chart weeks: 19

Frank Wilson/Anita Poree/Leonard Caston (PR: Frank Wilson/Leonard Caston)

 

29. SIR DUKE, Stevie Wonder

Hot 100 peak: 1 (3 weeks, 1977)

Chart weeks: 17

Stevie Wonder (PR: Stevie Wonder)

 

30. TRULY, Lionel Richie

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1982)

Chart weeks: 18

Lionel Richie (PR: Lionel Richie/James Anthony Carmichael)

 

31. MY GUY, Mary Wells

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1964)

Chart weeks: 15

Smokey Robinson (PR: Smokey Robinson)

 

32. DON’T LEAVE ME THIS WAY, Thelma Houston

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1977)

Chart weeks: 24

Kenny Gamble/Leon Huff/Cary Gilbert (Hal Davis)

 

33. YOU CAN’T HURRY LOVE, Supremes

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1966)

Chart weeks: 13

Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland (PR: Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier)

 

34. GOT TO GIVE IT UP (PT. 1), Marvin Gaye

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1977)

Chart weeks: 18

Marvin Gaye (PR: Art Stewart)

 

35. REACH OUT I’LL BE THERE, Four Tops

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1966)

Chart weeks: 15

Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland (PR: Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier)

 

36. LOVE HANGOVER, Diana Ross

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1976)

Chart weeks: 18

Pam Sawyer/Marilyn McLeod (PR: Hal Davis)

 

37. I CAN’T GET NEXT TO YOU, Temptations

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1969)

Chart weeks: 17

Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong (Norman Whitfield)

 

38. SUPERSTITION, Stevie Wonder

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1973)

Chart weeks: 16

Stevie Wonder (PR: Stevie Wonder)

 

39. SOMEBODY’S WATCHING ME, Rockwell

Hot 100 peak: 2 (3 weeks, 1984)

Chart weeks: 19

Rockwell (Curtis Anthony Nolen/Rockwell)

 

40. NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE, Jackson 5

Hot 100 peak: 2 (3 weeks, 1971)

Chart weeks: 12

Clifton Davis (PR: Hal Davis)

 

41. PART-TIME LOVER, Stevie Wonder

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1985)

Chart weeks: 21

Stevie Wonder (PR: Stevie Wonder)

 

42. PLEASE MR. POSTMAN, Marvelettes

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1961)

Chart weeks: 23

Georgia Dobbins/William Garrett/Brian Holland/Robert Bateman (PR: Brian Holland/Robert Bateman)

 

43. I HEAR A SYMPHONY, Supremes

Hot 100 peak: 1 (2 weeks, 1965)

Chart weeks: 10

Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier/Eddie Holland (PR: Brian Holland/Lamont Dozier)

 

44. I WISH, Stevie Wonder

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1977)

Chart weeks: 17

Stevie Wonder (PR: Stevie Wonder)

 

45. LOVE MACHINE (PART 1), Miracles

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1976)

Chart weeks: 28

Pete Moore/Billy Griffin (Freddie Perrenn)

 

46. DANCING MACHINE, Jackson 5

Hot 100 peak: 2 (2 weeks, 1974)

Chart weeks: 22

Hal Davis/Don Fletcher/Weldon Dean Parks (PR: Hal Davis)

 

47. TOUCH ME IN THE MORNING, Diana Ross

Hot 100 peak: 1 (1 week, 1973)

Chart weeks: 21

Ron Miller/Michael Masser (PR: Michael Masser/Tom Baird)

 

48. I HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE, Gladys Knight & Pips

Hot 100 peak: 2 (3 weeks, 1967)

Chart weeks: 17

Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong (Norman Whitfield)

 

49. FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE, Stevie Wonder

Hot 100 peak: 2 (2 weeks, 1968-69)

Chart weeks: 14

Ron Miller/Orlando Murden (PR: Henry Cosby)

 

50. DO YOU LOVE ME, Contours

Hot 100 peak: 3 (3 weeks, 1962)

Chart weeks: 18

Berry Gordy (PR: Berry Gordy)

 

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