Reviews of Motown Books -
Pressing Rewind

How many fans out there "know" Motown, beyond the music and the stars?

Over the decades, Motown books have revealed the nuts and bolts of the hit machine, the pleasures and sorrows of the artists, and the determination of the founder. From warm remembrances to scathing accusations to detached investigations, they've varied a lot in tone and purpose.

Yet they all preserve the Motown story.

Such as it is, that is! Fuzzy memories (and motives) do mean that facts may clash and interpretations may diverge.

But anyone who writes or devours books on Motown must agree on what a vibrant and significant era that was. Hey, throw together youth, ambition, art, celebrity, illness, rivalry, and race, and you're bound to get some stunning stories.

Most Motown books present a history, photos, trivia, and/or personal musings. Some do so better than others. Starting below, my reviews will tell you which.

To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic,
the Memories of Motown

Motown books: To Be Loved cover

By Berry Gordy, Jr., 1994

The boss sure does try to be loved by readers. This autobiography, the best of the Motown books I've read, softens Berry Gordy's image as a dishonest dictator and puffs up his nurturing, even heroic, aura as Motown's founding father.

The book's most endearing moments come before he was father of anything. Slyly understated phrases, like when he pays no heed to his birth statistics and feels "just happy to be here," lend him a sweet and self-effacing air.

Occasionally, he tries too hard to seem approachable. It seems amateurish for a printed resource to include CAPITALIZED words and multiple exclamation points!!! (Okay, so my emoticons and italics have a similar effect. There are different rules in cyberspace. ;))

Still, the feelings behind his words--and the punctuation surrounding them--make his self-portrait come alive. Like the songwriter he is, Gordy creates clear, concise lines with near-poetic reversals and characterizations. When he explains musical concepts or his own mantras for Motown, he does so as simply and honestly as he would if a melody accompanied it.

Does that honesty apply to all of Gordy's assertions? Ah, hard to say. His lofty talk about his Motown "dream" and "fight" and so forth belongs in a college essay--that is, it seems tailored to impress.

When he spins personal conflicts into battles between, say, a "worrier" and his "creative" self, his attempt to look admirable fails to convince. When he claims he valued the progress of individual Motown singers more than their projects, I can't quite believe in Teacher or Cheerleader Gordy as his main persona.

Unless the singer's name was Diana Ross. The obsession, the sex, the dogged command over her movie career, the public battles--they're all here.

What about the alleged Mafia connections? Or the charges that Motown cheated its artists out of money? Oh yeah. Those controversies aren't as central to this Motown book as the jacket implies. When Gordy does address them, he manages to at least sound logical about the issues.

Otherwise, thanks to the thorough research behind it, readers can apparently trust Gordy's rundown of Motown history. Other authors have, citing To Be Loved in their biographies and analyses.

Don't think he includes everything. The happy-joy-love theme smothers many hints of tragedy. It disturbs me that Berry Gordy has little to say about some of the artists he supposedly cared so much about. If he doesn't want to wallow, then fine. But shouldn't this father figure pay some tribute to his children?

Likewise, if you want sociopolitical context for Motown's growth, you won't find much here.

You will find a warm depiction of his blood family. Fun photos with humorous captions. A discography of Gordy's own works, alone and with partners. Touching sketches of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson. And a commendable effort to shower the Funk Brothers, executives, arrangers, DJs, and others with gratitude.

That and the author's engaging style make this my most highly recommended book about the Gordy and Motown story. There's much to be loved in it indeed.

More Reviews of Motown Books

Here's where I review Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power.

The Motown Album gets a look-see here.

Then there's One Nation Under a Groove. Read my review here.

Reviews of Motown Books
on Individual Artists

There are multiple Marvin Gaye biographies to look at, starting here.

All Gladys Knight biographies should be as lucid as the one I've read. Click here to see what I mean.

Don't forget Diana Ross biographies. I review them here.

When it came to Supremes biographies, though, Mary Wilson took the lead.

Temptations biographies in literary and cinematic form all seem to stem from Otis Williams's book. For his updated edition, click here.

Smokey Robinson bios get a page, too. Read my review of his self-written work.

My Martha Reeves biography review appears here.

Search here for more Motown book reviews and resources.

If you can't curl up at home with one of these Motown books, then scroll down the homepage for my outlines of Motown oldies artists!

Top of Reviews of Motown Books