THE REASON: Hitsville, USA
There was a time when I was jolted from my slumber every weekday morning by the instantly recognizable baritone sax intro to the Temptations classic "Get Ready." It came booming through the wall of my college dorm room like clockwork at 6:30 a.m. -- my next door neighbor's notion of a musical alarm.
Despite this daily assault, I still, these many years later, love that song.
Such is the ageless charm of that magic sound known as Motown. The little record company that could (and did) turned 40 this year, and is marking this milestone with a yearlong celebration of its achievements. So far, this has included the Motown halftime show at this year's Super Bowl, a four-hour, two-part TV special, a special Motown 40 Forever 2-CD box set and, now, a Web site, motown40.com.
Not about to overlook a major cultural event in its own back yard, The Detroit Free Press has also created a special Web site, 40 Years of Motown, with a confusingly similar URL -- motownat40.com. Either way you go -- with or without the at -- you'll arrive at the modest little white bungalow at 2648 West Grand Blvd. in Detroit that Motown founder Berry Gordy prophetically dubbed "Hitsville, U.S.A."
The motown40.com site is the creation of the record company and, while most of its content celebrates the legacy of its golden years in the '60s and early '70s when Motown groups such as the Supremes and the Temptations dominated the pop charts, a section called Motown '98 offers an obligatory nod to current acts such as Boyz II Men, who have the unenviable task of securing the franchise for the future.
The History section offers plenty of the oldies but goodies in a comprehensive timeline, discography, photo archives, group biographies and more. An interactive Jukebox offers samples from the new CD retrospective and lets you vote for your favorite song or program your own Motown music mix.
Another feature, In the Spotlight, highlights the career of a particular group or performer -- currently Marvin Gaye, the enigmatic performer whose many hits included "What's Going On," a song that perhaps better than any other evoked the turbulent feelings of the Vietnam Warcivil rights era.
As this anniversary year plays out, new features are planned, including live cyberevents, footage from artists' studio sessions and more.
Like the other site, 40 Years of Motown retraces the label's history with a timeline. But stories by staff writers, while extolling the accomplishments of Gordy and his performers, give us more of a sense that it wasn't all glory. Of particular interest: a profile of Gordy's sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, who remained in Detroit while much of the company defected to Los Angeles.
I was disappointed at not finding "Get Ready" among the sound clips, but maybe when Motown turns 50 it'll make the list, and "I'll be there ..."