We know you’re champing at the bit to get at your Motown Anthology box set, but don’t worry, they’ll be making your way from our warehouse to you soon. In the meantime, we’re sharing this with you, a Motown reading list. I read more than 20 books to get prepared to do the Motown podcast, and here are the best books about Motown to read while you wait for the box set to be delivered. Should be soon, so read some of these quick.
Probably the most concise, well-constructed history of the Motown label, if you’re looking for a quick, semi-comprehensive tour of its history.
This book is old — originally published in 1986 — but it’s a fun read for how much tea it spills about Motown artists and the stories of the label. The money quote is “there are no heroes or villains at Motown, just complicated people.”
The most complete biography of the Temptations, a delight to read, and spares no detail.
A massive coffee table book that combines insider stories with beautiful images from the label’s golden days. Get this to sit on your coffee table to inspire people to ask you to play Motown vinyl.
It feels like Mr. Gordy keeps a lot of his cards pressed firmly to his chest but, if nothing else, you get the story from the man himself, at a time when he sold Motown and got out of the music business.
Another must-read from Benjaminson, this is a book detailing one of the most undersung divas in Motown history. It’s worth it for the story of how Wells fought to get out of her record contract (at her husband’s behest) and how it changed things for Motown artists after her.
Stevie might be the most iconic artist in Motown history to modern eyes, but the craziest part of this book is how long Berry Gordy held on to Stevie, despite everyone being sure he didn’t have it, and should be cut loose from the label. That Gordy let Stevie develop into the master he was in the ’70s is a testament to him.
Reading this is like being at a cocktail party with Martha Reeves herself, dishing on the comings and goings and inside baseball things from years of Motown — she started as a secretary before becoming one of the label’s early stars. One of the breeziest memoirs you’ll read.
An illuminating and raw book about the short, complicated life of Florence Ballard, the Supreme who was forced out of the group in 1967 and the inspiration for the musical Dreamgirls. It’s a must-read for Supremes fans, and also good for talking about the early days of Motown.
Andrew Winistorfer is Senior Director of Music and Editorial at Vinyl Me, Please, and a writer and editor of their books, 100 Albums You Need in Your Collection and The Best Record Stores in the United States. He’s written Listening Notes for more than 30 VMP releases, co-produced multiple VMP Anthologies, and executive produced the VMP Anthologies The Story of Vanguard, The Story of Willie Nelson, Miles Davis: The Electric Years and The Story of Waylon Jennings. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota.