Motown : The Sound of Young America

Motown: The Sound of Young America


This is an authorised visual history of one of the most celebrated music companies of the past 60 years, complete with a fresh narrative angle: how a dedicated team of backroom believers, black and white, built the business of Motown Records at a time of dramatic social and cultural change in America. It was written by Adam White with Barney Ales, right-hand man of company founder Berry Gordy, and includes a foreword by Andrew Loog Oldham, who discovered, managed and produced the Rolling Stones. Containing more than 1,000 illustrations, the book is published by Thames & Hudson of London and New York, with editions in English, French, Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Spanish and Korean. The paperback edition is newly available.

Diana Ross, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and other megawatt artists star in this dazzling visual record of the music that revolutionized a generation.


Detroit free press

“What sets this book apart, along with a raft of over 1,000 beautifully-reproduced, rarely-seen (and some never-seen) photos, is White’s careful research and Ales’ insider stories.”


“In the first official visual history of the label, new research and unprecedented access lend new insight to the legend.”


“Berry Gordy would be both proud and humbled by the level of depth and care that has gone into documenting his legendary label.”



“The history is thoroughly researched and beautifully crafted by author Adam White, whose preface on the 1967 riots that devastated Detroit is a heart-stopping piece of writing.”


“Thought you knew everything about the Detroit label(s)?  Think again.  Adam White…has found an illuminating path into the familiar story of Berry Gordy’s labels.”


Motown: The Sound Of Young America is a handsome photograph book with a substantial textual accompaniment.”


For Ray Gordy and Barney Ales, there had been happier times.  One was the evening in 1961 that they and their spouses went to see a film at the Krim on Detroit’s Woodward Avenue and Six Mile, joking as they walked from the car park.  “It must have been some strange movie,” said Ales, “because it was like an art theatre.”  They bought tickets and headed for the concessions stand, while Ales explained to the usher that he had to go back to his car to listen to the radio.  “I’ll find you,” he told Mitzi, “Just get me something.”  A phone-in contest, pitting one record against another, was in progress that night on WJBK hosted by “Jack the Bellboy.”  One contender was a new Motown 45;  Ales needed to know the outcome.

            The contest over, Ales returned to the Krim, took his seat and asked Mitzi for the treats.  “What did you get me?”  “Popcorn,” she replied.  “The same as me, the same as Berry and Ray.  With extra butter.”  Ales laughed.  “Sounds like a good title for a song, Berry.”  Gordy not only agreed, but shared the writing credit with him when the novelty tune subsequently took shape.  To record it, the Motown founder turned to a quartet recently signed, The Supremes:  Florence Ballard, Barbara Martin, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson.  Their debut single, “I Want A Guy,” had sold little.  Now, it was time for the follow-up, and Ballard was chosen to sing lead on “Buttered Popcorn.”

            “It was a fun song to sing,” recalled Wilson, “and Florence jammed the heck out of it.  We were very disappointed that it wasn’t one of our earlier hits.  We always thought that it was going to be, because Barney co-wrote it.”  She even wondered whether the single’s failure was due to a dispute between Gordy and Ales, “and that Berry won out so the record wasn’t promoted.  That’s one of the reasons that Berry and Barney did so well together, because they were competitive.”  Ales remembered no disagreement with Gordy over the song.  “It sold quite a bit – popcorn companies used to give it away – but it was never a hit.”

            Ales heard Diana Ross’ frustration for himself one evening, after a reception at the Graystone Ballroom for newlyweds Wanda Young of The Marvelettes and Bobby Rogers of The Miracles.  A group of guests went on to a Chinese restaurant downtown, Victor Lim’s, including Ross, her then-boyfriend Motown engineer Lawrence Horn, and Phil Jones and his wife, Minta.  “Diana and Lawrence were in the booth next to me,” recalled Ales.  “I spilled something on my tie and cursed.  Diana turned around and said, ‘I’ve got something for that,’ and called to get some soda water.”  Ales was curious.  “She said she used to work at a cleaners and that’s how they got stains out.  And then she asked, ‘Barney, do you think we’ll ever be as big as the Marvelettes?’ ”

Excerpted from Chapter 4 of Motown: The Sound Of Young America © Thames & Hudson, 2016