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The Sound That Changed America

Part storefront church gospel, part jazz joint on a Saturday night, part street corner symphony, the Motown Sound jumped out of Hitsville U.S.A.’s Studio A onto the turntables of teenagers across America. Unlike anything listeners had ever heard, Motown songs married the saintly and the secular, merging the call-and-response patterns of black gospel music with the syncopation and improvisation of the be-bop movement in jazz. Down in the so-called snake pit in Studio A, the Funk Brothers backed Motown’s finest artists at all hours of the day—and night. Producers cut and blended tracks, using equipment that may still be viewed in Hitsville U.S.A.’s Control Room.

The Motown Sound owes some of its uniqueness to the reverb effect created by pumping tracks through the company’s Echo Chamber in the days before computers and synthesizers.

True to his commitment to quality, Berry Gordy, Jr. would not slap a Motown label on every song his producers offered. Artists and producers sweated it out each week at notoriously competitive companywide meetings, hoping to pass muster and see their songs released for sale to an eagerly awaiting public.