Unsung Heroes

Bill Morris assesses the literature of Motown, with special praise for Nelson George’s Where Did Our Love Go?:

Among the book’s many virtues is the way it places Motown in the historical context of American pop music and black enterprise. … Nelson has a keen ear and he recaptures the many elements that contributed to the magic of a Motown recording session, not only the drums, electric guitars and bass, horns and strings, but also the hand claps, foot stomps, cowbells, tambourines, all of it in service to those sublime vocals. Perhaps best of all, the book gives long-overdue praise to the people who were the key to the Motown sound – the house band known as the Funk Brothers, who [Motown founder Berry] Gordy refused to credit on album covers until Marvin Gaye’s smash 1971 concept album, What’s Going On. “Nobody outside Detroit knew all the players by name,” George writes, “but they may have been the best band in America.” The band’s bassist, James Jamerson, was arguably the greatest musician to come out of Motown. (For an expanded treatment of the Funk Brothers’ story, check out the 2002 documentary Standing In the Shadows of Motown, which opens by stating the astonishing fact that this unknown band played on more #1 hits than the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis combined.)

Watch the Funk Brothers perform in the above clip from Standing In the Shadows of Motown.