The word Motown may bring to mind an array of chart-topping dance hits from the ‘60s and ‘70s, with an infectious signature sound that blended soul, funk, and R&B. Indeed, the first two decades of the Detroit-based company’s recordings included some of the most memorable songs in American music. Here are the 50 greatest Motown hits of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
However, Motown was still churning out the hits in the ‘80s and 90’s. After relocating to Los Angeles and surviving decades of pop music evolution, Motown signed new acts like Rick James, Queen Latifah, Boyz II Men, and Brian McKnight, rounding out its legacy as one of the most influential independent record labels – and one of the most successful Black-owned businesses of any kind – in American history.
To determine the 25 greatest Motown singles of the 1980s and 1990s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on historical Billboard Hot 100 chart performance. Songs released by the Motown Records label or its subsidiaries between 1980 and 1999 were ranked based on a custom scoring wherein a week at No. 1 on the Hot 100 is worth 100 points, a week at No. 2 with 99 points, and so on, up to a week at No. 100 worth one point. Supplemental data on chart entry dates and total time spent on the Hot 100 were also calculated using Billboard data.
While many of these hits come from artists who’d long recorded for the company, including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and former Commodores frontman Lionel Richie, a new generation of ‘80s and ‘90s musicians also saw success with Motown. In 1985, a group of siblings recording under their surname, DeBarge, released the pop/R&B smash hit “Rhythm of the Night,” and in 1990 the hip hop group Another Bad Creation released their biggest hit “lesha” under the Motown label.
But 1991 saw the rise of the internationally successful Philly-based vocal harmony group Boyz II Men, who have seven hit singles on the list and have gone down in Billboard history for spending over 50 cumulative weeks at number one. (On the other hand, here are famous musicians who never topped the Billboard Hot 100.)
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