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209 M otown was starting to roll forward. Among its hits recorded in 1960 and 1961 were “Money” by Barrett Strong,“Please Mr. Postman”by the Marvelettes, and “Shop Around” by the Miracles. “Shop” reached number 2 on the charts, becoming the company’s first Top 10 hit. But real success in the music industry cannot be based on recordings alone, for tunes become really popular only when the performers who record them go on tour. But touring is expensive, and Motown had very little money. When early Motown acts toured, they couldn’t afford airplanes or hotel rooms. Often they’d travel by Greyhound and wash up in the bus depot before the show, then return to the depot for the bus back to Detroit after the show. When it became necessary, in the early 1960s, to send many Motown acts on tour to exploit the growing popularity of the company’s records, Berry Gordy realized that sending each act on its own tour would be financial suicide. So he decided to send them all on the same tour at the same time. There was another reason for sending the acts out together. The big talent agencies that arranged concert tours in the early 1960s didn’t want to deal with black acts at all, certainly not one at a time. But when Motown put all its acts together, the package involved so much potential profit that even the most prejudiced agents were willing to book the Motown acts into clubs and theaters. No other record company—certainly no white record company—has ever found it necessary to send its acts on tour together. Motown’s massive touring groups were known as Motortown or Motown Revues, and they were massive. The 1962 Revue included forty-five performers riding in a bus and five cars. “It was too many people and too many miles and showed a lack of experience putting all those people out there,”the Motown executive who managed that tour says. But the Motortown Revues introduced a lot of Motown acts to a lot of fans. And what an introduction. As Michael Thomas wrote in Rolling Stone, “There’d be the bongos and Little Stevie Wonder would come on and open it and then it would go on nonstop with the Marvelettes and the Contours, who had ‘Do You Love Me?’ and Mary Wells and the Temptations and all the others and it would wind up with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. He’d do that showstopper where he’d get down on one knee and then right flat on the floor, singing ‘a little bit softer now . . . a little bit softer now’ right down to where he was hardly whispering—and then he’d start to crank it up, ‘a little bit louder now ...a little bit louder now ...’until he was back up jumping and pumping full steam and the roof would fall in.” The revues served another function: eliminating the acts that couldn’t cut it and illuminating the superstars in the group. In this sense, the revues operated very much like farm teams in baseball. The Motortown Revues An Edited Excerpt from The Story of Motown Peter Benjaminson 210 moTown Sometimes the touring artists weren’t as well prepared for the revues as they might have been, in spite of Motown’s training programs. Occasionally, performers would have only a day or two to learn a whole new act. Or they’d have to wear hand-medown costumes that were too tight and came apart at embarrassing moments. But for the performers who were high-school dropouts or recent graduates living in Detroit when they joined Motown,traveling around America, even by bus, was tremendously exciting.For those Motown performers who’d literally never been beyond the Detroit city limits, a trip to a city like New York was a truly amazing experience. But Gordy went farther east than New York.For years, white English groups had been covering and re-recording black music for the English market. Gordy had a hunch that English buyers would be interested in the real thing if they were exposed to it. So after Motown had established itself, but before English groups began to invade this country, Gordy sent the Motown Revues on an invasion of England. He spearheaded the attack himself, flying to England on the first Motortown Revue plane, along with his parents, his sisters, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, and the Supremes. Although Gordy...


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