On this day, the 12th February, in 1961, Detroit group The Miracles’ song ‘Shop Around’ became Motown’s first million-selling single. Not only was this a milestone for popular music, but also an essential event in the discourse of African American culture in the US.
Recorded at Hitsville, USA, the original Motown Records headquarters, the song was first released in 1960, and had huge commercial success. It boasted massive popularity, placing number one on the Billboard R&B chart, as well as a number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
The songs popularity was even revisited in 1976, over a decade later, when a cover version was released by husband and wife act Captain and Tennille. Arguably, however, it can be seen as an impossible task to even begin to replicate the soul and spirit of the Motown sound that seems almost literally audible in the original.
The success of this record represented a move towards the acceptance and integration of black culture into mainstream America
The quintessence of Motown Records was, and always has been, the celebration of Afro-Caribbean and Western cultures synergising through music. The soul, funk, and disco acts of Motown all represent this, combining sounds from both sides of the Atlantic and creating music that can therefore resonate with any audience.
The million-sale success of this record within its first year of release represented a movement towards the acceptance and integration of black culture into mainstream America. In the years either side of ‘Shop Around’ becoming Motown’s biggest release, racial tensions within the US were at a fever pitch. Most southern states were rife with segregation, discrimination and violence, and being an African American citizen in America was far from a comfortable existence.
However, it seems that alongside art, fashion and other cultural ventures, music is one of the vehicles for acceptance and understanding between societies. It could be said that the music of Motown, alongside other movements of the era, provided a soundtrack to the journey from a segregated western world towards the equality we still strive for today. The fact that this record sold one million copies to a diverse US audience, in such a trying time for the rights of the very people that performed it, speaks volumes of music’s true power.