Rock & Roll Books
Motown in Love: Lyrics From the Golden Era
edited by Herb Jordan
Pantheon, 196 pp., $23
At the dawn of the rock-book era, 1970, stood Richard Goldstein's The Poetry of Rock. Light on text but varied in its songs, the book's brilliance was simple: Rock lyrics are an awkward extension of traditional poetry. That year also marked the waning days of Motown's magic touch on radio as the singles-dominated airwaves of the Sixties gave way to album-oriented formats. Yet one of Motown's enduring legacies was the timeless classic written by its tower of powerful talent, including Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and heavy-hit teams such as Valerie Ashford and Nick Simpson, Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, and the unstoppable Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Brian Holland. Collected by scholar-composer Herb Jordan, Motown in Love illustrates how the indie label's many muses shaped pop music well before The Poetry of Rock posited "Duke of Earl" with "Motorcycle Irene." Songs such as "My Girl," "Heard It Through the Grapevine," and "Stop! In the Name of Love" weren't only sophisticated poetry without a whit of awkwardness; they also taught rhyme, assonance, metaphor, simile, and meter with a lotta heart and a lotta soul. Forget the finger-popping beats and stellar musicianship: A Motown lyric is as emotional a declaration of love then as now.