IT’S BRITNEY BITCH! Top Ten Tunes From Pop’s Princess

© Dave Lachapelle, 1999

By Madeleine Healey

If like me you’ve recently watched The New York Times newest documentary, ‘Framing Britney Spears’, you’ll know that it is all anyone is talking about right now. The abhorrent treatment of one of pop’s most beloved stars by the media, paparazzi and even her own family has shocked the world. Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship for 12 years, with her finances, career plans and day to day life being controlled by her father Jamie Spears. She has been berated, bullied and humiliated in the world’s media, labelled an adulterer and a bad mother amongst other vile and slanderous characteristics. Britney is an icon of pop culture, with her music consistently hitting number one and going platinum, while simultaneously defining era after era. I have been inspired to write a piece that celebrates one of my favourite artists, an artist who has soundtracked my life, made me feel empowered, confident and strong and has filled me with joy since my childhood. So without further ado, here is a top ten ranking of the best Britney Spears singles, with love from her biggest fan. 

10. Lucky 

This song is one that my two best friends and I used to listen to on repeat when we were younger and for that reason is an essential feature for the top 10. Lucky tells the story of a Hollywood actress, who despite being rich, famous and loved is lonely and unhappy inside, a poignant narrative when comparing it with Britney’s own life. It’s such a sweet song, with a beautiful melody and gorgeous vocals from Britney. I still listen to Lucky now and it will always be a song I love. 

© Britney Spears

9. Boys

Featuring Pharrell and full to the brim with hip-hop and R&b funk, Boys is a slick, sophisticated Britney hit. Originally written for Janet Jackson, Boys is stylish, sexy and cool, with critics recognising elements of 70s funk and a Prince-like sound throughout the track. Boys differs from Britney’s distinctive pop sound and I absolutely love that about it.

© Britney Spears

8. Gimme More 

Gimme More is an absolute classic! I remember loving it when it first came out and that hasn’t changed 14 years on (don’t ask me how this song is 14 years old). The perfect nightclub anthem, Gimme More is a dark, grungy piece of electropop. Gimme More also features a spoken intro, in which Ms Spears utters the now iconic words, ‘It’s Britney bitch’, thus making history. 

© Britney Spears

7. …Baby One More Time 

Featuring one of the most famous music videos of the era and a costume that has been replicated at every fancy dress party since the beginning of time, …Baby One More Time is one of Britney’s most beloved tracks. …Baby One More Time went platinum three times and was even the best selling record in the UK during the year 1999. The track was crazy successful and it is so clear to see why. Fun, flirty and incredibly catchy, Britney’s first ever single is an absolute classic that will stand the test of time. 

© Britney Spears

6. Me Against The Music

For this track Britney is joined by another pop princess, Madonna. A sensual, sassy game of cat and mouse, Me Against The Music with its hip-hop infused sound and rapid-fire duet is one of my favourite Britney tracks. The video, featuring Britney in a latex fedora dancing her legs off is incredible and Madonna and Britney are a collaboration made in heaven. 

© Britney Spears

5. I’m A Slave 4 U 

I don’t think there’s a person alive who hasn’t wanted to dress in Britney’s famous Slave 4 U VMA costume, complete with a giant white snake draped over their shoulders. The track, produced by Pharrell Williams was said to be Spears’ most mature record, one that saw her shedding her ‘girl next door’ image. It’s sexy, cool and edgy, full of R&b style and a breathy vocal sound. I love I’m A Slave 4 U and it’s guaranteed to get me straight up on the dance floor (minus the python.) 

© Britney Spears

4. My Prerogative 

A cover of Bobby Brown’s 1988 track, My Prerogative has widely been interpreted as a perfect representation of Spears’ battle with the media and their perception of her life. The opening of the song features Spears breathily stating, ‘People can take everything away from you / But they can never take away your truth / But the question is, can you handle mine?’, before bursting into, ‘They say I’m crazy, I really don’t care’. This track hits back at the slanderous lies the media published about Britney, and I think it’s a really sassy, strong f-you to those who treated her so badly. 

© Britney Spears

3. (You Drive Me) Crazy  

One off Britney’s debut album, (You Drive Me) Crazy was also been remixed again in the Stop! edition of the track and I absolutely love both versions! Heavily influenced by R&b and full of that classic Britney pop groove, Crazy made it to the Top 10 in numerous countries worldwide. My new year’s resolution is to learn the routine to this song and buy a metallic green crop top to match Britney’s, although I doubt I’ll ever reach her level! 

© Britney Spears

2. Oops! … I Did It Again 

During the intense boredom of lockdown one, I took it upon myself to learn the choreography from the Oops I Did It Again music video and I can honestly say I have never been more in my element. The space-themed video, featuring Britney in her head mic and red latex catsuit is one of my absolute favourites! With a bridge that features a reference to the necklace from the movie Titanic (But I thought the old lady dropped it into the ocean in the end, well baby, I went down and got it for you), along with one of the catchiest choruses in music, Oops I Did It Again topped the charts in at least 15 countries and remains one of Britney’s most well known and loved singles. 

© Britney Spears
  1. Toxic 

Oh my god, this song is just so good. With a music video that made everyone either want to be, or be with Britney Spears, the most recognisable opening string section and an iconic diamond encrusted body stocking, Toxic was widely credited for changing the face of dance pop. Toxic is a song I never get sick of. I love the whiny Bollywood inspired strings and the bumble bee synths that proceed the chorus. Toxic is a timeless dancefloor classic and one that shows off Spears’ sensual vocals perfectly. I don’t know one person who doesn’t drop it like it’s hot as soon as they hear the opening refrain. If anyone were to ask me why Britney Spears is one of my favourite artists, I’d just play them Toxic on repeat as evidence. Iconic. 

© Britney Spears

Framing Britney Spears is available to watch on NOW TV. Listen to Mads’ playlist of these songs below.

BEEB BLACK LIST: The Gulf War Banned Bangers of 1990-91

Air Combat Force, 2000

War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing, as Edwin Starr asserted in his 1970 classic. Nevertheless, President H.W Bush (not the younger fella, but Homer’s disgruntled neighbour in The Simpsons) mustn’t have really understood this sonic rhetoric too well in 1990. This is not a modern history blog – though the Mark Corrigan in me perhaps would like it to be – so I’ll just be concise about The Gulf War. It began in response to Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait over oil price disputes. 35 allies. That’s the most allies ever in a War since WW2. Thatcher and Bush launched aerial and naval bombardment. They deployed troops in Saudi Arabia. It’s estimated that around 3,500 civilians lost their lives in Iraq and 1,000 more in Kuwait. It was an incredibly dark time. Why is this terrible series of world events relevant to this Manchester music blog, you ask? Well, in my research for a university essay, I stumbled across some curious information.

It’s no secret that the BBC have censored music before – virtually no artists were safe from the iron fist of the Beeb. From George Formby to the Sex Pistols, any songs that were deemed ‘inappropriate’ for airplay (normally due to lyrical content) were banished onto a blacklist of sorts. At the beginning of the Gulf War, a separate blacklist was created comprised of sixty-seven banned songs. These banned songs were not to be played on any BBC station for the duration of the war, and were normally banned due to containing war/violent imagery. However, a lot of the songs on this list were banned because of fairly tenuous links to the conflict. Any song that referenced a desert – such as Midnight At The Oasis was banned. There’s also an abundance of songs written with anti-war rhetoric at their heart: Army Dreamers, for example. Most interesting is that songs have been banned that reference other much older conflicts; admittedly, songs like Two Tribes and Everybody Wants To Rule The World reference the much fresher elongated period of the Cold War. But Waterloo being banned? You’d have hoped the 1815 Battle of Waterloo wouldn’t have been in too poor taste at this point, surely.

Still, despite the ludicrous censorship of many of these songs, one can understand their perspective in some respects. The news was absolutely saturated with warfare. War-heavy songs understandably wouldn’t have been played on radio stations to give listeners a little break from their other morose cultural intakes of the day. Some of the songs on this list even (in my opinion) were actually right to be banned, as some deal with heavy topics insensitively in terms of the timeframe they were being released. I decided to select my personal favourite of the Secret 67. I’ll pop them on a little playlist; and I’ll list them below. Rather than going into depth about these songs and maybe even speculating on why I think they were censored, I invite you to give the playlist a listen and to come to your own conclusions. It was strangely quite entertaining trying to work out how on Earth the BBC stretched some of these to deserve banishment!

Some of the songs on here are dated, and thus lyrically represent ideals that aren’t at all acceptable anymore. Please be aware of this and understand my enjoying these songs does not mean I lyrically condone stone-age ideals. I align more with Kate Bush’s ideological stance on the war, don’t you worry. Do feel free to leave a comment about your speculations, and please do let me know if this is a deeply dry subject matter – I just felt remarkably compelled to share these offerings!

An Introduction To Brian Eno: Six Tracks To Get You Started

By Josh Phillips

Brian Eno – 10 of the best | Brian Eno | The Guardian
© Photograph: Brian Cooke/Redferns. Eno, 1972.

Brian Eno is perhaps a name you have heard before. He seems to hang above the edifice of  popular culture; his ideas commonplace today even amongst the changing tides of once-again-in vogue elite cultural tastemakers of the 70s. Bowie, Lou Reed, Iggy, Eno.  

The question (who is Brian Eno, anyway?) is best understood through the lens of Eno as a solo  artist. He is, of course, many other things. Producer, visual artist, theoretician, songwriter, song singer, synthesist and sometime-provocateur are but a few of the many guises of Mr. Eno (add to this list the following: mammal, uncle, wine-lover and masturbator, per Eno’s own book A Year With Swollen Appendices). To label the work put out under the name Brian Eno (or simply ENO) as that of a ‘solo artist’ is perhaps misleading, as Eno himself is rarely the sole artist or performer featured  on the records bearing his name alone.  

Instead, the role of ‘Eno the solo artist’ is most clearly understood when analysing his role as a collaborator – mixing the many technical disciplines of his host of collaborators as a kind of master  alchemist in the recording studio, wielding many foreign elements as tools to forge crossover points between the experimental theorist John Cage and the blues rocker Bo Diddley, or the art rock  sensibilities of The Velvet Underground and the cacophonous jazz fusion of Miles Davis. 

The man himself posits the theory of collective ingenuity (or “scenius”) as the driving force behind many of the most crucial works in art history. Looking at the solo career of “the quietest revolutionary in rock”, it is hard to disagree with the idea, as Eno redefined the roles of musician  and producer. He embraced experimentation and spontaneity, while injecting a distinctively flamboyant  avant-garde approach to the cliché and overtly-macho world of 1970’s popular music. Here are 6  tracks to introduce a new listener to the works of glam-rocker/ambient-extraordinaire Brian Eno.  

(Please note: this list features works put out under Eno’s own name in which he is the sole or main artist. Please stand by for a similar piece introducing listeners to his gargantuan back catalog of  collaborative work as a producer and guest performer for the likes of Talking Heads, David Bowie,  Nico, Roxy Music, John Cale, David Byrne and Cluster, to name but a tiny selection). 

Track 1: Burning Airlines Give You So Much More from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974) 

© Peter Schmidt, 1974.

The opening track to Eno’s second full-length solo LP, Burning Airlines Give You So Much More acts as a manifesto for the album and for this period as a whole for Eno. The scratchy guitar lead  (most likely played by non-musician Eno himself on his Teisco Starway guitar) that waltzes through each refrain is distinctly wonky and chromatic even within the canon of an artist that doesn’t seem  to care too much about traditional harmonic cohesion.  

With lyrics hinting at espionage and long journeys to the far-east, the theme of this song seems to  be more notional and off-the-cuff than allegorical or narrative; but each line does seem to evoke a deeper, more hidden meaning upon closer inspection. “Maybe she will do a bit of spying, with  micro cameras hidden her hair” could be an improvised passage referring to generic Cold War  clandestinity, but it could refer to something more personal. The digging for meaning is optional of course, as this art rock opener is fulfilling enough as an artistic statement without the interference  of personal bias on the part of the over-curious listener. 

Track 2: The Big Ship from Another Green World (1975) 

© After Raphael by Tom Phillips, 1975.

The Big Ship is, in many ways, the fusion of Eno’s two somewhat opposing internal voices in the  mid-70’s. The figure of Eno as a rockstar in the burgeoning art-rock movement has been made  famous by his public persona as the spiritual totem of Roxy Music and synthesist of possible alien origin, but his tendency to craft oblique and evocative instrumental music was well-hidden until his  break with Roxy Music in the early 1970’s.  

This track combines these two personas seamlessly, as Eno uses drum machines, distorted  guitars and synthesizers to craft a slowly-building instrumental that grabs hold of the listener and  doesn’t let go. Seriously, this is one of his absolute best works. 

Track 3: 2/2 from Ambient 1: Music for Airports (1978) 

© Brian Eno, 1978.

Amongst the contributions made by Eno to the greater sphere of popular culture as a whole, none  are more widely recognised and quantifiable than his coining of the term “Ambient” and his  subsequent championing of this emergent sonic philosophy. It is said that ambient music is “as  ignorable as it is interesting” by design, and no album better demonstrates this concept that the  aptly named Ambient 1: Music For Airports, which was originally composed to fill the wide-open  neutral spaces within Cologne Bonn airport. 

2/2 is one of four tracks on the album, and each of the four could have been selected here. 2/2 has  always seemed as though it were the most nostalgic of the four pieces on the LP, however, as the  looped, wordless vocals and thinly-spread piano clusters of the other pieces can hint at a cold lack  of attachment at times. The ARP 2600 synthesiser on 2/2 is warmer, more expansive and more  easily evokes feelings of homeliness by comparison. 

Track 4: Golden Hours from Another Green World (1975) 

© Neal Preston/CORBIS, 1974.

Another selection from Another Green World that draws from a similar sound-world to the rest of  the album with sparse percussion, organ stabs and distant group backing vocals. This song,  however, differs from many others from this period as it showcases Eno’s ability to pen exquisite  lyrics that would be the envy of pop songwriters and folk singers alike. “I can’t see the lines I used  to think I could read between” is as good a metaphor for the loss of one’s youth and changing  perspective as has ever been penned by McCartney, Mitchell or Young. 

The instrumentation here is similar to many other tracks on the album, with this track almost  exclusively being performed by Eno himself, save for two noteworthy contributions by guitarist  Robert Fripp (who performs a staccato, jig-like guitar solo) and Velvet Underground alumni John  Cale on Viola. 

Track 5: Discreet Music from Discreet Music (1975)  

© John Bonis, 1975.

While it may be true that the term “ambient” only gained entry into the popular lexicon following the  release of Eno’s 1978 album containing the word, the truth is that the theory was in development  for some time preceding that. 1975’s Discreet Music (released on Eno’s own label Obscure  Records) is a cornerstone of the emerging genre, and the liner notes of the record elucidate the  way in which the record combines the tranquil and atmospheric feeling of Eno’s art music with the  chance operations and sonic exploration of American avant-garde composers John Cage, Steve  Reich and Terry Riley. The back cover of the LP gives a physical blueprint of the signal chain  through which the piece was recorded, with a diagram displaying the complex studio arrangement  required to give the ever-evolving generative tones heard on the record. 

The length of the piece is also of note. The theoretically-endless, evolving piece has a duration of  over 30 minutes, roughly one whole side of a vinyl record. With this, the piece distinguishes itself  from the popular music of the time and stands alongside longer-form classical works. The length, limited by the physical restrictions of music consumption at the time it was recorded, asks the  listener “did you know I could make this go on forever? if only I were allowed share this with you forever.”.

Track 6: Taking Tiger Mountain from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (1974) 

© Brian Cooke, 1972.

The finale of the album that bears the same name, this track is another Eno-ic exploration into the  world that exists between the song form of popular music and the instrumental world of the  classical avant-garde. Layers of guitar and piano subtly grow under synthesised white noise,  imitating the howling alpine wind on a snowy mountainside. 

Eno again summons lyrics heavy with symbolism and meaning; “we climbed and we climbed,  forging lines through the snow”. One does feel as if a the summit is being reached, as the waves of  motion slowly build underneath the chanted chorus and until we can all “take tiger mountain”. This one is a personal favourite, and an often-overlooked essential Eno cut.

ROLL UP, ROLL UP! ROBINSON’S RECORDS IS OFFICIALLY OPEN!

By Neve Robinson, (duh)…

Esteemed readers, friends, beautiful brothers and sisters. Maybe even mortal enemies. The time is upon us. Robinson’s Records is here, and she’s bold, brash, and filled with just the right amount of trash. I’m Neve. Robinson, if I haven’t rammed that down your throats enough by now. And though this may seem a merely a project of pure narcissism (name-wise, anyway), it’s a project I wanted to create with the intention of offering a platform to young contributors across Manchester. Music journalism is an incredibly difficult business to break into. It’s a business, more than anything. A lot of it is quite formal, with strict structural conditions and deadlines. For me, this goes against the very nature of creativity. I don’t think creative expression should be limited in any way, particularly when it comes to writing about creative expression! Nobody’s opinion is wrong here, there’s no guidelines, there’s no pressure. It’s just a place where lovely people can write about the lovely records that they love, and the more personal the better. Maybe even in doing so, we can help out and highlight upcoming artists to give them some positive exposure in this cutthroat industry. At the end of the day, the people reading music zines and blogs, the people supporting artists in any way they can, the people putting the needles down on their records – they’re all normal, everyday people (to quote Sly and the Family Stone). I want to strip away the clinical side of loving records. No pretentious, cold, unfeeling stuff. Loving music is about what it makes you feel, and I want to know exactly how you feel about things. Just pure, unadulterated adoration of tunes. Striking up conversations about albums and artists. Introducing folks to new bangers (who doesn’t love that feeling?!) In short, I want us to do things differently here.

Ever since I was small, all I’ve really cared about is music. Any music. All music. From being 5 with my mum blasting Hunky Dory in the car, to being a dedicated emo at 13, to my Smiths superfan phase at 16 (that is definitely still ongoing, sorry.) Punk, Northern Soul, disco, new wave. I’d hungrily devour record after record. Thanks to a very lucky musical upbringing – shoutout to Sheila and Rob for their impeccable tastes I’ve inherited! – with each passing year I was finding more and more about music. And I just loved the journey, every step of the way. The sensation of stumbling across a new (to me) band and wanting to share their stardust with others, but being met with less-than-enthused responses…well, it just spurred me on to befriend communities online and in Manchester with similar tastes. I started submitting pieces over the years to a variety of amazing music zines and blogs, be it interviews or reviews, and something just clicked in me. This. To talk for hours with incredible people who share my love for all things sonic, to learn from people with extensive back catalogues of musical knowledge. Even flicking through somebody else’s treasured collection. It just felt right. If I hadn’t been given these amazing opportunities to waffle about the things I’m passionate about, I wouldn’t be here today. This is the point of this blog. I want it to be open to anyone and everyone. I want it to be whatever people want it to be.

We’re going to be doing reviews, interviews, articles, think-pieces, discussions on soundtracks. We’re going to be writing about the music we love here. No holds barred. I’ve met some of the greatest people in my life through just chatting about music. And I’d love to meet more through it. So if there’s something you’ve always fancied scribbling about, please don’t hesitate to drop us an email – don’t doubt yourself. We’d love to read anything you’ve got up your sleeve.

Before signing off so that you can have a little nosey through this blog, I want to take a moment as well to just thank everybody who has made this possible. It’s been a rough year so far and we’re only in January; to have the support of so many in getting this up and running has meant more than you can know. To my family, you’re mint, thanks for fueling my passion. To my housemates, who love and look after me better than I look after myself, thankyou. To all the contributors – Tilly for her groovy graphics, Josh for all his hard work interviewing, Josh P and Mads for their wonderful articles – as well as a huge thanks to all the amazing artists that have let us review their works (Blanketman, Ella Boshe/Sam Shaw, YNES and Rory Wynne to name but a few upcoming…) And finally to anyone who’s liked, shared, followed or even just asked me about this project. It means the world and more. Sending love and light. I really hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoy putting it all together and collating some seriously great work.

Keep your eyes peeled for some fabulous stuff in the coming weeks. And remember our one and only cardinal rule, folks – no Wings slander tolerated here. After all, according to Alan Partridge, they’re the band the Beatles could have been.

Neve x

© Matilda Wigley

Dancing In The Street: My Top Ten Motown Tracks

By Madeleine Healey

© US National Archives. The Temptations, The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes. The launch of Tamla Motown, London 1965.

Motown music is one of the most predominant memories of my childhood. My mum’s teenage years were soundtracked by Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and The Isley Brothers, and from her I have inherited a complete and utter love for Motown music. There is rarely a car ride that we don’t have the Motown CD blasting. We even have it playing during our Christmas dinner. Motown music, with its signature horns, percussion and driving bass lines, is the epitome of joy for me. Named after Detroit’s ‘Motor City’, Berry Gordy’s Motown Records was more than a record label. The Motown Sound became ‘The Sound of Young America’ and had a huge influence on style, culture and pop music industry. The obstacles the artists of Motown faced were unthinkable. Racism, prejudice and segregation was a societal norm yet the African-American company Motown had more than 180 number one records worldwide and became the most commercial success record company in history. I’ve found narrowing all my favourite songs down to a list of merely ten quite distressing. It’s been a nearly impossible task for me and I’ve spent hours pouring over my top tracks, changing them, finalising them, changing them again and having many a dance along the way. I think I’ve managed to whittle my favourites down to ten. The songs I have chosen are songs that were produced by Motown Records specifically, I haven’t chosen soul records that have a similar sound (otherwise I’d be here all day). I’ve definitely missed out some brilliant Motown hits – but the songs selected are ones that mean the world to me, and the ones that I couldn’t live without. 

10. I Was Made To Love Her – Stevie Wonder 

I absolutely love a song with a story, and I Was Made To Love Her by the god that is Stevie Wonder does not disappoint. The song tells the story of Stevie’s childhood sweetheart Susie, and their growing love throughout the years. This track is filled with the most gorgeous lyrics like ‘I was made to love, worship and adore her’ and ‘Even if the mountain tumbles, if this whole world crumbles by her side I’ll still be standing there’. I mean, you can’t get more romantic than that! My mum also loves to sing at the top of her lungs “SUSIE WAS IN PIGTAILS!”, which has become my favourite line for that reason. Featuring the grooviest bass line, Stevie’s trademark bluesy harmonica and some powerful vocals, I Was Made To Love Her epitomises the soul sound for me. 

© Motown Records

9. It’s The Same Old Song – The Four Tops 

‘You’re sweet as a honeybee, but like a honeybee’s sting you’ve gone and left my heart in pain’ – wow, what an opening line. This song convinces me that Four Tops frontman Levi Stubbs has one of the best soul voices of all time. His voice is deeply emotive, and every song that he sings is steeped with passion. The Four Tops are just unbeatable in my opinion, and I love many of their songs. Baby I Need Your Loving and Walk Away Renee come to mind, but Same Old Song is right at the top. The song’s narrative is full of lovesick heartbreak, and yet when paired with a classic Motown groove, incredible horn solo and wonderful backing vocals (and dance moves) from the other three of The Four Tops, it’s impossible not to bop along. This is one of Mum and I’s absolute favourites and we’ve spent many a car ride blasting this song with the windows down, ‘raising our hands to the music’ (not when driving).

© Motown Records

 8. Too Busy Thinking About My Baby – Marvin Gaye

I’ve always dreamed about being serenaded by Marvin Gaye. This song in particular is one of Gaye’s most romantic, in which he lists all things he ‘ain’t got time’ to do because he’s too busy thinking about his love. Gaye’s velvety vocals are complemented beautifully by a string arrangement so gorgeous you feel like you are going to melt when you hear it. One thing I love about the men of Motown is the vulnerability that they express in their music. Gaye isn’t afraid to lay his heart on the line and declare his adoration or heartbreak, and you can hear that in every song he sings. This song has given me exceedingly high romantic expectations and although my boyfriend has not yet serenaded me, I’d be happy for him to lip sync to this song and be done with it. 

© Motown Records

7. Heatwave – Martha and the Vandellas

A perfect song for a summer’s day! Martha Reeves and the Vandellas had it all: style, glamour and number one hits a plenty. They are one of my favourite Motown girl groups and Heatwave is my favourite track of theirs. This song is so joyful and instantly gets me in a good mood. The playful call and response backing vocals of ‘like a heatwave’ from Rosaland Ashford and Betty Kelley compliment Martha Reeves’ powerful vocals perfectly. With a groovy horn section added to the mix, we are left with an instant floor filler and soul classic. Martha Reeves is still performing at the age of 79 no less, and it is one of my dreams to have a boogie to this song live.

© Motown Records

6. What’s Going On? – Marvin Gaye 

Written in response to the police brutality, racial discrimination and devastating effects of the Vietnam War that he saw around him, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? is undoubtedly one of his greatest masterpieces. It’s tragic to think that this song’s meaning is still prevalent in 2021, as Gaye sings, ‘Don’t punish me with brutality’ and ‘Brother, brother, brother, there’s far too many of you dying’. Gaye’s mellow vocals give the song a calming, soothing feel that contrasts to the painful subject matter. I find this track very therapeutic, and have spent many an evening before bed listening to it to unwind. This song is one of the late Marvin Gaye’s best, and, I would even go as far to say, one of the greatest songs ever written. 

© Motown Records

5. You Keep Me Hangin’ On – The Supremes 

I am obsessed with The Supremes and ‘there ain’t nothing I can do about it’. I love every song by The Supremes but You Keep Me Hangin’ On has it all: style, attitude, vulnerability  and fire. This track sums up perfectly what being led on feels like. ‘Let me get over you the way you’ve gotten over me’ and ‘You don’t want me for yourself, so let me find somebody else’ – I mean we can all relate. From the opening funky guitar riff we are catapulted into a captivatingly dramatic world. Diana Ross’ soft voice is so pretty and aches with heartache, helped along by the powerful backing vocals of Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson. You Keep Me Hangin’ On is full of sadness and sass and is an anthem to sing at the top of your lungs when your heart has been broken. 

© Motown Records

4. Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles 

An instant floorfiller from the first note, Tears of a Clown by the King of Motown, Smokey Robinson is one of the most well-known and loved Motown tracks. The catchy, circus-esque calliope motif (written by Stevie Wonder no less), inspired Smokey to write a song about Pagliacci, an Italian clown, who cries from loneliness in his dressing room after each day of making people laugh is done. Smokey’s distinctive high vocal register gives the song its full sound and when Smokey sings, ‘I’m sad, sadder than sad’ you almost feel like he’s crying out in misery. The song itself however, is far from miserable. The funky horns, bass line groove and call and response backing vocals create a perfect, instant dancefloor filler. I challenge anyone to listen to this track without even tapping their foot. Impossible. 

© Motown Records

3. I’ll Pick A Rose For My Rose – Marv Johnson 

I’m starting off the top three with an underrated Motown gem that I only stumbled across when Spotify shuffled it to me. I can’t thank Spotify enough for that. Pick A Rose For My Rose is the prettiest song and one that I insist is a song for me because my middle name is also Rose (loose connection I know). It’s also a song that I pester my friend Rose with by singing it to her every time I see her, so much so that it’s now become our song. The song didn’t make the charts in the US but gained the popularity it deserved in the UK, thanks to the Northern Soul scene. The track’s simple piano melody is paired with delicious lyrics that ooze romance (‘I’ll pick a rose for my Rose, cos somehow I know she knows, this love deep in my heart is still alive’). Go and listen to it if you haven’t already, and get ready to fall in love. You’ll see why it’s in the top three of my list. On Marv Johnson’s gravestone it reads ‘Motown Pioneer’ and judging by the gorgeous piece of music left in his legacy, it’s clear to see why.

© Motown Records

2. I Can’t Help Myself ( Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch) – The Four Tops 

This song is one of my favourite songs ever made. Within a second of this song starting, my mood is transformed. I Can’t Help Myself is a beautiful declaration of love, which can be applied to anyone you choose, whether that be for a partner, a friend or a family member. The sweet refrain of ‘Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch’ is irresistibly catchy and fills me up with joy every single time it plays. Whether on the radio, on a telly advert or played by a wedding DJ, this song is guaranteed to have everyone singing their hearts out. I Can’t Help Myself seems to be a song that everybody grew up knowing. It’s a wonderful example of the Motown Sound: with the signature percussion and horns creating a golden groove that seems to fill you up. Do yourself a favour and watch footage of The Four Tops singing this live. It’s so delightful to see their joy and the million dollar smiles lighting up their faces, they are electric performers. I read that the group initially didn’t like the song as they found it ‘childish’ and ‘sappy’. Despite the Four Tops’ reservations, this song is a Motown classic and sits proudly in my list of the best songs ever made. 

© Motown Records
  1. This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You) – The Isley Brothers 
© Motown Records

My favourite Motown song is without a doubt The Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart of Mine. It reminds me of my mum, who absolutely loves it too. Without my mum, I wouldn’t have discovered my favorite genre of music, so whenever this comes on I think of her. From the song’s opening piano build to the lyrics (‘This old heart of mine, been broke a thousand times’), we deeply feel that classic Motown vulnerability, adoration and heartache. Ronald Isley’s lead vocals are beautiful, especially when backed by O’Kelly and Rudolph Isley’s gorgeous refrain, ‘I love you, yes I do-oo’. The sentiment may be corny by today’s standards, but I think it is stunningly romantic, a jubilant celebration of love. I can’t express how much I adore this piece of music, and you can guarantee that within a millisecond of this song starting, I’m straight onto the dance floor without a second thought. The record sleeve of This Old Heart of Mine was infamously whitewashed, as The Isley Brothers were replaced by two white teenagers frolicking on a beach. Behind this music filled with euphoria and jubilation was a world of racial segregation, violence and prejudice. The Motown artists brought some much-needed joy into a world that was unjust and deeply racist. The adversity they faced is impossible to comprehend, yet against all odds Motown became the most successful independent record company in history and the most successful African-American-owned business in America. I am forever indebted to Motown music for uplifting me, motivating me, heartening me and inspiring me always. It is the best music ever made and I will carry it with me for the rest of my life, grooving as I go.