In 1959, Detroit songwriter and record store proprietor Berry Gordy founded Tamla Records and opened a small recording studio that he nicknamed Hitsville U.S.A. The following year, he incorporated Motown Records – the name being short for Motor Town, a derivation of Detroit’s nickname, Motor City.
Motown soon released “Shop Around” by The Miracles, which became an R&B smash hit, and the company went on to become one of the most influential independent record labels – and one of the most successful Black-owned businesses in general – in American history. The label introduced numerous now-legendary recording artists to audiences, including Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and Smokey Robinson, and during the ‘60s and ‘70s, pumped out dozens of top hits and often dominated the Billboard charts. (Here are the most dominant reigns in Billboard history.)
To determine the 50 greatest Motown singles of the 1960s and 1970s, 24/7 Tempo reviewed data on historical Billboard Hot 100 chart performance. Songs released by the Motown Records label or its subsidiaries between 1960 and 1979 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.
Huge acts including the Temptations, the Supremes, the Jackson 5, and Marivin Gaye each have at least five songs on the list, while child prodigy and multi-instrumentalist Stevie Wonder appears with 13 hit singles.
In addition to the new acts that found success with Motown, a number of older acts recorded hit singles for the label, including the Four Tops, with their catchy single “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” and the Contours, with their 1964 hit “Do You Love Me,” written by Berry Gordy himself, which is No. 1 on our list.
Michael Jackson, the child star and lead singer of the Jackson 5, went solo with Motown in 1971 and continued a prosperous career, eventually becoming one of the biggest recording artists ever, as well as one of the many solo artists who were more successful than their bands.
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