Can't Get It 

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                 A Baby Boomer

 

                           Muses on The Music

Gimme Motown

Struggling Weekly, June 27, 2013

With a child in college three-plus hours distant, who competes in track and field for about five months out of the year, Jeanne and I have been spending more time driving than ever. (That’s on top of the 25,000 miles or so she puts on just going to work.)

That has presented the problem, what to listen to on those drives? When she’s alone in the car, she listens to talk radio on Sirius XM; she says it keeps her awake. (I know, that sounds counterintuitive.)

I like to listen to my 1960s and ’70s album rock on Deep Tracks, but my wife is from another half-generation. So we tried a number of different satellite channels — light jazz, blues, you name it — before discovering Soul Town. Now, it’s the default when we hit the road.

It’s an easy choice for me. And their definition of soul and Motown is broad enough that it includes music the 1970s, ’80s and later, more to her taste.

Motown in particular seems to have a universal appeal. And while the SXM programmers occasionally wander off the genre map, mostly it’s like the soundtrack from my teenage years.

I was a huge Beatles fan, and liked a lot of the British Invasion acts, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, Dion, the girl groups, etc. But there was something about “Motown” and the soul acts that touched a nerve with teenagers.

I put Motown in quotes because it was about more than the acts that legendary — tyrannical, some claimed — promoter Barry Gordy signed to his Detroit-based label of the same name. Stax/Volt, Chess Records — a number of other companies fielded solo acts and groups making much the same kind of music.

Some of it pined for unrequited love, some of it spoke to our teen obsessions. Some of it had a rougher edge, with the double-entendre of rock and roll. Pretty much all of it, to paraphrase the kids we watched on “American Bandstand,” had a nice beat, and was easy to dance to — we gave it a 10.

Whether it was Aretha soaring over “Say a Little Prayer” or tearing her heart out on “Respect,” Wilson Pickett growling about “Mustang Sally” (I dated one back in ’67, but that’s another story), Smokey Robinson singing smooth as silk, or Otis Redding “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay,” it was just about all good. The Four Tops, Temptations, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Gladys and the Pipps, Marvin Gaye — so many great artists and acts!

The hours on the road listening to the soul, rhythm and blues and Motown hits of the 1960s and ’70s has renewed my interest in the music. I’ve had CD compilations for years, plus a few of the big names — Otis, Aretha, etc. — but lately I find myself fishing through the $5 rack at Wal-Mart, leafing through the pages of Collector’s Choice, and loading up on the likes of Smokey, the Four Tops, Sam and Dave, etc.

So, when I’m travelling on foot, plugged into my iPod, I can surf the radio dial from 45 years ago. A shuffle on my Motown iTunes playlist runs to 168 songs — maybe 10 hours. My battery, and my legs, would run out before I could get through that!

I’ve even entered Soul Town as a preset on my antique — 2007 — Sirius XM radio, the one that doesn’t give you the name and genre of the station, much less the songs. Still go to the ’70s rock first, but Soul Town is becoming the number one alternative to Deep Tracks.