Motor City's Burning - Detroit from Motown to the Stooges
About the Programme
By John Sinclair
Motor City's Burning: Detroit from Motown to the Stooges tells the musical story of Detroit in the 60s. It boasts an impressive soundtrack, extensive archive footage and contributions from top names of the time.
In 1967 the biggest riot in American history erupted on the streets of Detroit, but the riot wasn't the only revolution going on - the 60s would see Detroit create music that would change the world. In the early 60s an aspirational record label would transcend Detroit's inner city to take black music to a national audience. And in the late 60s a group of suburban kids would descend into the inner city to create revolutionary rock that expressed the rage of young, white America.
Historically known as the motor city, Detroit was a hardworking blue collar city; the home of America's car industry - the city where they built the American dream. Detroit's first musical star was bluesman John Lee Hooker, who arrived in town and took a job at the Ford motor company. He changed the face of the blues scene in the city, and his style would become a benchmark for a generation of Detroit rockers to come.
The next factory worker to put his stamp on Detroit's music would transform American pop. In the early 1960s Berry Gordy Jr set up his own black pop record label with a dream of taking kids off the street and turning them into stars. Working out of his own home, Gordy created the hugely successful Motown label with acts including The Supremes, The Temptations and Martha and The Vandellas. Like a production line, Motown sought to create pop records that had a uniform sound, and became the world's first cross-over label bringing black and white together.
The Motown brand put Detroit on the map and by 1965 it was the sound of young America, with black pop music dominating the mainstream US charts for the first time. But Motown's manufactured pop didn't reflect the realities of life for the young black population of the motor city, whose frustration was growing in the face of increased unemployment and worsening racial inequalities.
Across town a group of white working-class suburban kids known as the Motor City 5 were also hoping to take the music world by storm with a new sound. England had revolutionised popular culture and the Americans were struggling to keep up. Under the management of middle-class bohemian John Sinclair, the MC5 took residence in a dangerous part of town and created a whole new world of escapism, drugs and revolutionary rock.
While the inner city was a place of adventure for the white kids, trouble was escalating among the black population and on July 23, 1967 Detroit erupted into riots. The city burned for five days resulting in 43 deaths, over 450 injured, and over 7,200 arrests.
Detroit's music would be profoundly affected by the riots and Motown was dragged into this new reality when Dancing in the Street became the unofficial anthem of the rioters. As the civil rights movement gained momentum, and Detroit changed, the music began to reflect a city and nation in turmoil. After the riots the factories closed resulting in unemployment and poverty, and drugs swept through the city. Motown outgrew Detroit and shipped out west, lured by warm weather and Hollywood film projects.
The white music scene was also affected by the unrest. The MC5 lived within the riot zone and were caught up in the chaos. Angered by the Vietnam War, their music expressed the frustration of young white Detroit, part of a nationwide uprising in which American youth went up against the authorities in cities. During this time John Sinclair was imprisoned which hit the band hard at a crucial point in their development. Yet the influence of their revolutionary acid-drenched rock had already reached some unlikely places.
George Clinton originally came to Detroit with The Parliaments to audition for Motown but after seeing the MC5 he was inspired to combine rock and soul to create groundbreaking funk. Next up the Psychedelic Stooges along with front man Iggy Pop were inspired to create raw rock music that was the starting point for what would become punk. But it would take outsider Alice Cooper to break Detroit's new sound through to real commercial success.
Ben Whalley, producer
Dancing in the Street – Martha Reeves and the Vandellas