The 25 greatest Motown songs of all time
25) Michael Jackson – “Ben”
Michael Jackson began his career as a mature vocalist with this unlikely ode to a pet rat. As absurd as the premise for the song was, no one could deny the special quality of that magical voice.
24) The Supremes – “Where Did Our Love Go?”
One The Supremes best and easily recognizable hits. Around the time of its release this supergroup was jockeying with The Beatles for Billboard chart supremacy.
23) Mary Wells – “My Guy”
Wells’s coy little number became so iconic that Whoopi Goldberg did a comic rendition of it called “My God” for her hit film Sister Act.
22) DeBarge – “I Like It”
DeBarge may be better known for their smash hit “Rhythm of the Night” but it was this, their first breakout record, that established them as one of the premier R&B groups of the 80s.
21) The Four Tops – “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”
Although they’re frequently overshadowed by their rivals The Temptations, these guys were no slouches. Of their numerous hits, this punchy, catchy tune may be their best.
20) The Jackson 5 – “I’ll Be There”
Although only 12 years old, lead singer Michael Jackson was able to convey depth and emotional longing far beyond his years in this massive single (which also had a showcase for his older brother Jermaine).
19) The Temptations – “Ain’t to Proud to Beg”
One of the all-time best pleading songs ever recorded, you can practically hear the Temptations “down on their knees, begging you please…”
18) Stevie Wonder – “I Wish”
Although Will Smith nearly ruined it with his atrocious “Wild Wild West” theme, this super-catchy nostalgic trip down memory lane is one of Stevie Wonder’s most enjoyable recordings.
17) Jr. Walker and the All Stars – “Shotgun”
Although Walker may not be a household name, virtually any soul fan can identify the blistering single “Shotgun”. Later it was prominently featured on The Cosby Show and in the tragic finale of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.
16) Smokey Robinson – “Cruisin’”
Robinson’s silky vocal prowess has been oft-imitated but no one can touch his performance on this breezy and subtlety sexy hit single.
15) The Temptations – “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”
From the eerie intro to the funky baseline, this 1972 hit heralded a funkier direction from this legendary group and label.
14) Stevie Wonder – “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”
So many ballads follow this classic’s blueprint (including some of Stevie’s own — “Overjoyed”, “Ribbon in the Sky” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You” to name a few) but he never did it better than on this adorable song.
13) Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – “Shop Around”
One of Motown’s greatest singles was also one of its first big hits. This funny and bubbly pop gem would define black music for a decade.
12) Marvin Gaye – “Let’s Get It On”
Just about every sexy slow jam of the last 35 years owes a debt to this seriously sensual masterpiece from this R&B legend.
11) Lionel Richie and Diana Ross – “Endless Love”
While the film Endless Love is now largely forgotten, it’s theme song — sung by Richie and Ross — has stood the test of time as one of the greatest ballads of the 1980s.
10) Rick James – “Superfreak”
Endlessly sampled (everyone from MC Hammer to Jay-Z) and reference (see the finale of Little Miss Sunshine), Rick James’ most famous track is an irresistible dance song, with some characteristically inappropriate lyrics.
9) Martha and the Vandellas – “Dancing in the Street”
This song (which is emblematic of the early Detroit influence on the “Motown sound”) is both a wonderful dance number and a subtle nod to the turmoil of the Civil Rights era.
8) Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”
The gorgeous Tammi Terrell and debonair Marvin Gaye truly seemed to be in love with each other when they sang duets. This soaring and soulful one may be the best of their may be their most enduring hit.
7) The Commodores – “Brick House”
This seminal funk troupe’s unapologetically funky tribute to thick women still gets people of all ages rushing to the dance floor.
6) The Supremes – “Stop! In the Name of Love”
The Supremes epitomized the height of Motown poise, style and craftsmanship — which was all on display on their most celebrated single. Their easy charm and simple hooks endeared Motown to multiple generations.
5) Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – “The Tracks of My Tears”
Bob Dylan once described Robinson as one of the great American writers and it’s easy to see why if you pay attention to the vivid and heartfelt lyrics behind this wonderfully lush love song.
4) Stevie Wonder – “Superstition”
Wonder’s incredibly prolific period in the 70s yielded dozens of classics but this exciting, propulsive jam may be the most vivid and genre-defining.
3) The Temptations – “My Girl”
Simply put — this is a perfect love song. So timeless and eloquent (thanks to David Ruffin and Co.’s expert phrasing). A sweet sentiment, stirringly delivered.
2) The Jackson 5 – “I Want You Back”
Has there ever been an opening salvo in the history of pop songs more dynamic than this one? From the opening piano glide to Michael and his brother joyous vocals — this is the ultimate feel good soul song. As beloved today as the day it was first released.
1) Marvin Gaye – “What’s Going On”
The seminal soul record of its time — and one of the greatest R&B songs ever recorded, Gaye’s master work spoke to our fears, concerns and hearts. It represents the best of Motown.
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Tonight, the Obamas will be paying tribute to the iconic music of Motown at a special Black History Month event at the White House. Besides being some of the most celebrated pop music of all time, Motown means a lot to the black community and has created some of its most enduring stars. While it’s almost impossible to pick — theGrio has compiled a list of the 25 best Motown songs. See if your favorites made our list…