Motown Vs Soul Music: Similarities and Differences

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Words: 532 |

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3 min read

Published: Nov 16, 2018

Words: 532|Page: 1|3 min read

Published: Nov 16, 2018

Soul music is the term adopted to describe African-American popular music in the United States of America as it evolved from the 1950s to the 1960s and 1970s. Some people view soul as simply a new term for rhythm-and-blues music however, in fact, a new generation of artists re-interpreted the sounds of the rhythm-and-blues pioneer singers of the 1950s (such as Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and Ray Charles) whose music was popular among white-Americans and was transformed into what became known as rock ‘n’ roll.

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The Motown sound, which came of age in the 1960s, is also considered as soul music. In addition to its pop-oriented artists such as the Supremes, the Motown label produced artists such as - Marvin Gaye (‘Can I Get a Witness’, 1963) and Stevie Wonder (‘Uptight, Everything’s Alright’, 1966). Pure soul music was popularised by artists like these around the 60s. Singers such as Otis Redding, screamed, shouted, begged, stomped and cried, harkening back to the blues shouters of the Deep South in the United States.

Motown started in Detroit, Michigan the name is also defined as motor town. Motown played is an important role in the racial integration of popular music as an African American-owned record label that achieved significant crossover success. In the 1960s, Motown and its subsidiary labels including Tamla Motown, the brand used outside the US were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as the Motown Sound, a style of soul music with a distinct pop influence.

During the 1960s, Motown achieved spectacular success for a small record company: 79 records in the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100 record chart between 1960 and 1969. According to Time Magazine over the next decade, the sheer number of chart-topping artists, musicians, and groups produced by Motown defied comprehension: Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye. All became part of what would come to be known as the Motown Sound.

Great melodies, lots of tambourines and hand clapping, blaring horns, interplay between the lead singer and his or her backup vocalists, driving bass lines and foot-slapping drum parts. As for Soul music it was also developed in the 1950’s it combines elements of African-American gospel music, rhythm and blues and jazz. Soul music was a big influence at the same time as Motown during the civil rights movement. According to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, soul is "music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying". Catchy rhythms, stressed by handclaps and extemporaneous body moves, are an important feature of soul music.

Other characteristics are a call and response between the lead vocalist and the chorus and an especially tense vocal sound. Soul and Motown have a lot in common both being a big influence during the civil rights movement and having somewhat the same type of sound. Stax records which was the birth of soul records broke many boundaries like white and blacks working together during a very segregated time. Although both Stax and Motown were producing songs in the genre of soul music during the same period, their sounds were far from identical.

The signature sound of Motown was a polished and sophisticated, jazz-influenced soul that showcased smooth vocals in the forefront of the music. Gordy wanted to produce music by African American artists and musicians that would be popular with people of all races, social classes and regions, and was particular in how to achieve this. Musical techniques from early r&b music like twelve-bar-blues patterns and doo-wop styles were very rarely used.

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Instead, Motown’s sound was one based on pop structures layered with gospel and blues techniques for its identification with soul music. With teenagers suddenly a powerful consumer demographic, Gordy marketed the music of Motown directly to this enormous paying audience by describing Motown’s music as "the sound of young America".

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Motown Vs Soul Music: Similarities and Differences. (2021, December 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from
“Motown Vs Soul Music: Similarities and Differences.” GradesFixer, 05 Dec. 2021,
Motown Vs Soul Music: Similarities and Differences. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Feb. 2024].
Motown Vs Soul Music: Similarities and Differences [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Dec 05 [cited 2024 Feb 29]. Available from:
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