When people talk about the "Motown sound" they usually mean the golden period of the 1960s, the mighty pop soul ballads of Smokey Robinson, or jive-perfect dancers by the likes of the Supremes or Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. It's often forgotten that, along with many of its artists, Motown adapted well to the 70s disco boom and the new sounds coming out of labels such as Salsoul, Philadelphia International and TK. And, ironically, that it produced many of the 70s and early 80s disco classics on which today's dance sound is more genuinely based.
In the late 70s, with the demise of their Invictus label, the legendary Holland brothers (who had written so many of Motown's 60s classics with their partner Lamont Dozier) returned to the Motown camp to join multi-talented song writing teams such as Ashford & Simpson, Sawyer & McLeod and Mike & Brenda Sutton who were all able to perfectly capture the essence of the disco era. And the soulful vocalists and stellar musicians already in house at Motown were able to carry it all off with the sort of performances the material deserved.
Of course, Motown's two biggest hitters, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, also both made their very best records in the 70s, and both dabbled successfully in disco from time to time. Add funky new acts like Rick James, Stone City Band and Teena Marie and Motown pretty much had all soulful dancefloor bases covered during the disco era. They were also the first to "eye cue" their 12" disco discs, giving DJs the track's BPM and info on the exact length of the various sections of the song - one of the earliest examples of a record company recognising how important the DJ was to become. By `79, and very much with the DJ in mind, 12"s such as Diana Ross' `The Boss' were being purposely intro'd with mix-friendly drum beats, something that's become par for the course these days for most dance tracks released. But, as this compilation demonstrates, those disco beats were already infiltrating the Motown sound as early as 1972.