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The 1970s are mesmerizing; we can’t deny it. But, the seventies was also a tumultuous decade. We had the Antiwar Movement, the Watergate Scandal, the fight for Women’s Rights, the Environmental Movement,  memorable cars, ’70s fashion, and the most uproarious of them all… 1970s music! The 1970s was truly a decade for rock and roll, funk, and plenty of other music genres.

At the heart of ’70s music here locally in Detroit, Michigan, was none other than Hitsville U.S.A which was Motown’s first headquarter’s and recording studio. The house which was formerly a photographers’ studio was purchased by Motown founder, Berry Gordy, in 1959 and converted into a recording studio. Located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan, it is now home to the “Motown Museum”.

Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A.  historical stories centered around the music of the 1970s in Motown is so rich! Countless iconic musical artists recorded within its studio. Below is a list of songs that were recorded and/or released in the ’70s  that were birthed within the walls of this historic Detroit landmark.

 

  • 1. "War" by Edwin Starr

    Edwin Starr was an American singer and songwriter. He was famous for his Norman Whitfield-produced singles of the 1970s… the most notable number-one hit was “War”; a song originally recorded by The Temptations, and included on their 1970 album Psychedelic Shack.

    This is a protest song about the Vietnam War, although it makes a broader statement of the need for harmony in our everyday lives.

    “War” was one of the first Motown songs to make a political statement. The label had always been focused on making hit songs, but around this time Motown artists like The Temptations and Marvin Gaye started releasing songs with social commentary, many of which were written by Whitfield.

  • 2. "Get Ready" by Rare Earth

    “Get Ready” is a Motown song written by Smokey Robinson. Though recorded at Hitsville U.S.A. in 1969, the song was not released until February 18, 1970.

    Rare Earth’s version was used on Friends during a wedding reception scene in season 7 on the episode titled, “The One With All The Cheesecakes.” That rendition was also used in the TV show, “Chicago Hope” and the 2001 movie, “A Knight’s Tale.”

  • 3. "Ball Of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" by The Temptations

    Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” was a ’70s hit single for the group, The Temptations. It was released on the Gordy (Motown) label, also known as Hitsville U.S.A., and written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.

    Lyrically, the song attacked the Vietnam War, Nixon’s government, and drug addiction, making it one of the few protest records that came from Motown.

  • 4. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" by Stevie Wonder

    American musician, Stevie Wonder, wrote the soul song, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” with  Motown songwriters Lee Garrett and Syreeta Wright. The song was released in June 1970 as a single on Motown’s Tamla label. It spent six weeks at number one on the U.S. R&B chart!

    There are no official credits for the musicians on this track, but Motown house musician (Funk Brother) Bob Babbitt, who died in 2012, claimed that he played the famous descending bassline, and Motown historians agree. Babbitt said that Eddie Willis played the electric sitar.

  • 5. "Still Water (Love)" by Four Tops

    Smokey Robinson and Frank Wilson (who also produced the track) wrote “Still Water (Love) for the Motown singing group Four Tops. The song was a 1970 hit single.

  • 6. "Up the Ladder to the Roof" by The Supremes

    Up the Ladder to the Roof” recorded by the Supremes for the Motown label, was a 1970 hit single. It was the first Supremes single to feature the new lead singer, Jean Terrell, who replaced Diana Ross who left the group to pursue a solo career two weeks before the recording of this song in January of 1970.

    Jean Terrell, who had roots in gospel music and actually possessed a much stronger and “soulful” style voice compared to Diana Ross, was asked to cut down on the number of vocal runs she was doing during the recording of the song.

  • 7. "Psychedelic Shack" by The Temptations

    “Psychedelic Shack” was produced by Norman Whitfield and performed by The Temptations. This song was a 1969 single but became a hit single in 1970. The song’s title and lyrics refer to a type of hippie nightclub popular in the late 1960s.

    All five Temptations got at least a line of lead vocals on this track, including their bassman Melvin Franklin, who appropriately sings the “So low you can’t get under it” line. David Ruffin had left the group at this point, so the other members were Dennis Edwards, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, and Eddie Kendricks.

  • 8. "That's the Way Love Is" by Marvin Gaye (Album)

    “That’s the Way Love Is” is the tenth studio album by soul musician Marvin Gaye. It was released on January 8, 1970, on the Tamla (Motown) label. 

  • 9. "Right On" by The Supremes (Album)

    “Right On” is the nineteenth studio album by The Supremes. It was released in 1970 for the Motown label and was the group’s first album not to feature The Supremes’ former lead singer, Diana Ross.

    Diana Ross’s replacement, Jean Terrell, began recording “Right On” with Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong in mid-1969, while Wilson and Birdsong were still touring with Ross. The album was released on April 26, 1970.

    “Right On” features two top 40 singles, “Up the Ladder to the Roof” and “Everybody’s Got the Right to Love”. 

  • 10. "What Love Has...Joined Together" by The Miracles (Album)

    “What Love Has…Joined Together” is a 1970 album by R&B group The Miracles which is also known as “Smokey Robinson & The Miracles”. This album was released on April 28, 1970, on Motown Records’ Tamla label.

    This was a concept album consisting solely of six extended-length love songs.  “What Love Has…Joined Together” features Miracles members Smokey RobinsonBobby RogersPete Moore, and Ronnie White on the front cover, and Claudette Robinson on the back cover.

  • 11. "Diana Ross" by Diana Ross (Album)

    Diana Ross is believed to be the debut studio album by American singer Diana Ross, as she moved into her solo music career. The album was released on June 19, 1970, by Motown Records.

    The first song on the album was “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)“. The album did reach number 19 on the US Billboard 200 and ended up peaking as number one on the US Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. The album, “Diana Ross“, would later go on to sell 500,000 copies in the United States.

    In 1972, 2 years after going solo, she made her film debut as Billie Holiday in the biopic Lady Sings the Blues. She received an Oscar nomination for her performance, and the film’s soundtrack went on to be number one in the United States.

  • 12. "New Ways but Love Stays" by The Supremes (Album)

    “New Ways But Love Stays” is the second studio album of The Supremes with new lead singer, Jean Terrell. This album was built upon the foundation of the group’s first LP, “Right On”. It was produced by Frank Wilson and features The Supremes’ most successful single with Terrell, “Stoned Love“.

    According to Kinney Thomas, who wrote the song, “Stoned Love”, the song has nothing to do with drugs. It’s actually about the ongoing social issues of the time, such as the Vietnam War, and the need for compassion. “Stones are forever,” said Thomas. “They don’t break or come apart. Love will be here forever.”

  • 13. "The Magnificent 7" by The Supremes and the Four Tops (Album)

    The Magnificent 7 is a collaborative album with The Supremes and the Four Tops who were both two big vocal groups at the Motown record label. The album featured their hit cover of Ike & Tina Turner’s “River Deep – Mountain High”, which reached number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.

  • 14. "A Pocket Full of Miracles" by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (Album)

    “A Pocket Full of Miracles” Smoke Robinson & The Miracles album was released in 1970 through Tamla, a Motown Records subsidiary label. This was one of three albums the group, The Miracles, released that year.

    Like many other albums of The Miracles’ that were released post-1969, “A Pocket Full of Miracles” was never released in a CD format. A few years later, it was edited and re-released by the now-defunct independent label, Pickwick International, under license from Motown Records. It had a different cover and the name was changed/modified to “Pocketful”.

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