I’ve assembled the best Motown songs of all time, a collection that embodies the heart and soul of a musical era that redefined the sound of rhythm and blues.
This article takes you on a journey through Motown’s most iconic tracks, showcasing the timeless melodies and profound emotions that made these songs a crucial part of music history.
Top Motown songs of all time
- “End Of The Road” by Boyz II Men
- “There’s A Ghost In My House” by R. Dean Taylor
- “Nightshift” by Commodores
- “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes
- “ABC” by The Jackson 5
- “Keep On Truckin” by Eddie Kendricks
- “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong
- “Every Little Bit Hurts” by Brenda Holloway
- “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder
- “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations
1. “End Of The Road” by Boyz II Men
Although the majority of us identify the Motown name with hit tracks from the 1960s and 1970s, the record company released top-notch music well into the 1990s.
Like Boyz II Men, fewer musicians carried the label’s reputation throughout the final decade of the 20th century.
They debuted their breakthrough single “End Of The Road” in 1992, and it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for a record-breaking 13 weeks.
This boy band was the forerunner of all subsequent boy bands.
It featured the new orchestral R&B sound of the 1990s while paying homage to the sound of 1960s Motown groups.
2. “There’s A Ghost In My House” by R. Dean Taylor
The 1967 single “There’s A Ghost In My House” by R. Dean Taylor failed to garner any attention or popularity upon its initial release.
However, the song started to gain popularity in the UK because of its groovy lead guitar.
When the song was re-released in the UK, it quickly climbed the charts to number three.
R. Dean Taylor is regarded as one of the finest artists to emerge from the Motown label that you haven’t heard of.
He is one of the label’s few white recording artists.
3. “Nightshift” by Commodores
“Nightshift,” the first single from the Commodores’ second album following Lionel Richie’s departure, is a solemn and soulful tribute to two of Detroit’s most adored musicians, Jackie Wilson and Marvin Gaye, both of whom passed away in 1984.
It’s interesting to note that the Commodores initially opposed the release of “Nightshift,” but it has since become the group’s most successful hit following the departure of Richie.
It also won a Grammy for Best Vocal R&B Performance by a Duo or Group.
4. “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes
This is one of the best Motown songs ever.
The Marvelettes delivered a bubble gum-pop song that fits right in as a crossover hit for the time and quickly became an instant classic that still evokes memories for an entire era.
The Marvelettes were a hit right out of the gate for Gordy and served as something of a prototype for the kind of girl group that would find perfection in the soon-to-follow Supremes.
Uncommon Knowledge: Marvin Gaye, a future Motown icon, can be heard on the drums.
This shows how connected the community was in Hitsville, U.S.A.
5. “ABC” by The Jackson 5
The Jackson 5’s instant hit, “ABC,” was the only song capable of dethroning The Beatles’ “Let It Be” from the top of the charts.
The song was one of Motown’s greatest hits and longest-lasting songs because it featured constant call-and-response between Michael Jackson and his siblings over a funky groove.
A young Michael was on display during live performances, displaying an enthusiasm that was unimaginable for a youngster his age.
6. “Keep On Truckin” by Eddie Kendricks
Two years after leaving Motown group The Temptations, Eddie Kendricks released “Keep On Truckin’,” which has a strong clarinet groove (clavinet!).
The 1973 single reached the top of the charts with his soaring falsetto leading the band.
It has to be mentioned again, but the clavinet is so excellent on this song! The song foreshadows the funky path Motown would take in the 1980s.
7. “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong
Barrett Strong’s name may not stick in your memory, but the song will because it is rated as one of the top Motown songs.
As Tamla Records noted at the time, “Money (That’s What I Want)” marks Motown’s debut success for the young company.
The Beatles, who released their rendition of the song on November 22, 1963, were among the artists who later covered it (the same day John F. Kennedy was assassinated).
Later, Strong would file a lawsuit against Gordy and Motown for taking credit, a battle Gordy would fight for years.
Nevertheless, “Money (That’s What I Want)” would continue to serve as the cornerstone around which Motown would build its prolonged path to success.
8. “Every Little Bit Hurts” by Brenda Holloway
The 1964 song “Every Little Bit Hurts,” which was one of the most impactful early Motown songs, was Brenda Holloway’s biggest success.
Numerous artists would be inspired by her powerful voice, including Alicia Keys, who paid tribute by recording her version of the song.
9. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder had already established himself as a Motown artist by the time he was just 20 years old, but with the release of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours,” Wonder solidified his position as a hitmaker in his own right.
The musician then embarked on what can best be described as a soulful journey, with highlights including the birth of his children set against a cultural explosion as African-Americans started to embrace their heritage.
This is something which played out through fashion and music.
10. “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” by The Temptations
The psychedelic and funky song from The Temptations was both pleasant and surprising.
The song, which was originally composed for The Undisputed Truth, was modified and lengthened into a 12-minute work of art as a farewell to the group’s first and most well-known incarnation.
It was also the group’s final No. 1 hit and Grammy nomination.
11. “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by The Undisputed Truth
Although The Undisputed Truth had a significant role at the Motown label, “Smiling Faces Sometimes” from 1971 was their biggest success.
The Temptations had already released a version of it, but it did not enjoy the same level of popularity as The Undisputed Truth.
12. “Does Your Mama Know About Me” by Bobby Taylor And The Vancouvers
Bobby Taylor’s work as The Jackson 5’s mentor may be his most well-known contribution, but “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” which he recorded with his backup band, The Vancouvers, was his biggest success.
The song, which was co-written by Tommy Chong (yes, that Tommy Chong), catapulted Bobby Taylor and The Vancouvers to fame.
13. “Dancing in the Street” by Martha Reeves and The Vandellas
“Dancing in the Street,” a signature song for Motown’s golden age, has been the subject of several cover attempts from bands like Van Halen, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie, but nothing compares to the original by girl group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.
“Dancing in the Streets,” in search of a better phrase, was a celebration of blackness during a period when a sense of pride was required to overcome difficulties.
14. “Stop! In the Name of Love” by The Supremes
“Stop! In the Name of Love,” which topped the pop charts for three weeks, is another iconic single for Motown and the Diana Ross-led Supremes, who were in the midst of a record-breaking 12 songs that would top the charts.
The song, which was produced by Hitsville, the USA’s top talent, is urgent and danceable.
15. “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by The Temptations
The Temptations’ “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” is one of the few songs to truly encapsulate the essence of love and loyalty.
This song, which is sung with great passion over a catchy beat and its distinctive harmonies, is a prime example of what made the Motown sound so successful.
Years later, the Rolling Stones decided to cover this great song.
16. “Super Freak” by Rick James
“Super Freaks” by Rick James is one of the top Motown hits of the 1980s.
With his iconic hit, Rick James helped usher in the era of Motown funk.
His song, which had a funky groove, celebrated all the ladies you wouldn’t “bring home to mama.”
Everyone enjoys dancing and singing along to this song, which is still a party and radio favorite.
17. “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye
This song, which was written in 1971 and is unfortunately still relevant today, was inspired by police brutality against peaceful protesters.
The song was originally written by Renaldo Benson of the Four Tops, who witnessed violence in Berkeley’s People’s Park with Motown artist Al Cleveland.
The Four Tops later believed the song was too political for their group, and Marvin Gaye eventually took it up and made some changes.
Gaye created the song on his own and released it without Berry Gordy’s, the label’s chief executive’s, consent.
The song’s popularity, which made it one of Motown’s fastest-selling hits, gave Gaye the opportunity to pursue other interests.
18. “I Want You Back” by Jackson 5
Even though Little Michael Jackson was just 11 years old when he took the lead on this song and let his four bigger brothers sing backup, he managed to win over America with this groovy pop classic calling for love to come back.
The flawless bassline from this song is still being used today in hip-hop tracks by artists like Kriss Kross and Jay Z.
19. “I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder
“I Was Made to Love Her,” one of Stevie Wonder’s biggest hits, encapsulated all that was great about the Motown sound.
It continues to be one of his and Motown’s finest performances, from his harmonica to the funk orchestration to his passionate vocals.
20. “Brick House” by Commodores
“Brick House” is one of the popular Motown songs.
No song better captures Motown’s transition to funk than the Commodores’ smash hit, “Brick House.”
This song is still recognizable and one of Motown’s funkiest songs because it set a standard for beauty that almost everyone could embrace.
21. “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by The Four Tops
The Four Tops recorded the song “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” for their fourth studio album Reach Out, which is also formatted as “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” (1967).
One of the most well-known Motown songs of the 1960s, the song was written and produced by Motown’s main production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland.
It is widely regarded as the Four Tops’ trademark hit.
22. “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
This song, which was one of the Miracles’ biggest hits and was written by its frontman Smokey Robinson, was also a hit for Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, and other groups who later covered it as a group duet.
23. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
Gaye and Terrell, who were a great duet team and produced a legendary song together, actually recorded their parts separately, but it didn’t stop them from having a Top 20 hit with this song.
The song was a number-one hit for Diana Ross in 1970 when she launched her solo career, following the Supremes’ breakthrough in 1967.
She was nominated for a Grammy for her spoken-word performance.
24. “War” by Edwin Starr
What is the purpose of war?
Nothing but providing us with this music.
This protest hit, which The Temptations originally recorded in a much gentler version, was assigned to the less well-known Starr because concerns were voiced that the strong message might harm the former group’s mega-star status.
Despite The Temptations’ version being released the same year, Starr’s 1970 rendition, which included the force of a young James Brown in the “huhs” and a stinging intensity, became one of the defining singles of the era.
25. “The Tracks Of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
“The Tracks of My Tears” is still one of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ biggest hits and one of the best R&B songs ever composed.
In hindsight, it is regarded as one of the most iconic Motown songs and among the greatest songs from the era.
26. “Someday We’ll Be Together” by Diana Ross & The Supremes
This is another classic Motown song.
“Someday We’ll Be Together” was The Supremes’ twelfth number-one hit and the last song they recorded with Diana Ross.
The famous song was the ideal way for Motown’s great three to cap off their successful tenure together.
Diana was, of course, far from finished and would go on to have a prosperous solo career.
27. “I Just Want To Celebrate” by Rare Earth
The first all-white band to achieve commercial success on the Motown label was Rare Earth.
“I Just Want to Celebrate,” their breakthrough single from 1971, quickly climbed the Billboard charts.
It continues to be a classic representation of early 1970s soul and funk.
28. “Heaven Must Have Sent You” by The Elgins
The Elgins had a breakthrough with “Heaven Must Have Sent You,” staying true to the Motown style of the mid-1960s.
The song was the biggest hit for the Motown trio and was extremely popular in the UK.
The song would become a disco success thanks to Bonnie Pointer’s 1979 cover.
29. “Easy” by Commodores
Lionel Richie was the main singer for Motown’s Commodores before serving as an American Idol judge.
His skill at composing and performing love ballads was on full display in the song.
It quickly rose to the top of the charts as one of the best soul ballads ever written.
30. “What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin
Everybody who is now experiencing a broken heart was the target audience for Jimmy Ruffin’s 1966 hit.
He persuaded the Motown executives to allow him to perform this song that was written for The Spinners because he is the lead singer of The Temptations’ elder brother.
The song is still one of the longest-lasting Motown hits ever.
31. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” by The Temptations
One of The Temptations’ longest-lasting hits is their third No. 1 single.
“Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),” a song from 1971, quickly climbed to the top of the charts.
It brought back memories of the group’s early 1960s sound.
32. “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder’s song “Sir Duke,” from the legendary 1976 album Song In The Key Of Life, is a tribute to all the musical greats that came before him, such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald.
It quickly rose to the top of the Billboard charts thanks to its catchy horn section and is still regarded as one of Stevie’s and Motown’s greatest hits of all time.
33. “Upside Down” by Diana Ross
Motown Records was at the forefront of the transition from the R&B era to the disco era.
The 1980 hit single “Upside Down” by Diana Ross soared to the top of the disco and soul charts in addition to the Billboard Hot 100.
It became one of Motown’s all-time biggest songs after rocketing to the top of the charts all around the globe.
34. “My Guy” by Mary Wells
Mary Wells became Motown’s first major female solo star in 1964 when her mega-hit “My Guy” propelled her to the top of the Billboard charts.
She is renowned for being The Beatles’ favorite female singer and for accepting their invitation to tour with them in the UK, making her the first Motown artist to perform there.
35. “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” was Motown’s biggest hit when Martha & The Vandellas first performed it, but Marvin Gaye’s version, which he released in 1968, greatly outperformed it.
His classic version of the well-known song is regarded as one of the greatest Motown soul and funk hits and is still regularly played on radio today.
36. “My Girl” by The Temptations
The Temptations’ first number-one hit, “My Girl,” was written by Smokey Robinson and is now remembered as one of Motown’s most popular songs.
The song, which Smokey wrote in honor of his wife, is an exuberant expression of love and happiness.
Immediately after its 1964 release, the song soared to the top of the Billboard charts.
It’s difficult to resist smiling when that intro riff lick begins.
37. “Bernadette” by The Four Tops
This is not a love song, even though the singer refers to the titular Bernadette as “the soul to me” and places her high above.
Rather, it is a dramatic look into the mind of a man who is intensely jealous and believes that everyone, including his friends, is trying to get his girl.
Levi Stubb’s powerful vocal performance on stage sure sells it.
38. “It’s A Shame” by The Spinners
This song, which was The Spinners’ biggest hit, is notable for being co-written by the incomparable Stevie Wonder.
It was also the first that the legend produced for another artist.
The Motown sound remained present in the band’s soulful songs even when they switched to Atlantic Records two years later on Aretha Franklin’s advice.
39. “Heat Wave” by Martha and The Vandellas
This is one of the classic Motown songs of the 1960s.
With its fusions of soul and pop sounds, tight harmonies, and positive vibes, this 1963 song was one of the first to properly set the tone for the Motown “sound.”
It was a hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 and R&B charts.
40. “You Can’t Hurry Love” by The Supremes
The Supremes first released the 1966 song “You Can’t Hurry Love” on the Motown label.
This song, inspired by the 1950s church classic “You Can’t Hurry God,” “He’s Right on Time,” not only sold well on the charts but also became synonymous with Diana Ross and the Supremes.
41. “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” by Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye was rated as one of the best Motown artists.
The 1964 ballad, unquestionably one of his sweetest, helped establish Gaye as a household figure and would go on to influence love songs for years to come while being far more pop-influenced than most of his tracks.
The actor and comedian Jackie Gleason’s catchphrase “How Sweet It Is!” served as the inspiration for the song’s title.
42. “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder
Steve Wonder recorded one of Motown’s greatest hits, “Living for the City.”
Even while Motown was mostly known for creating crossover hits, the record company also released some controversial protest songs, with Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” standing out as one of its best.
“Living for the City,” the second single from Wonder’s pioneering Innervisions album, is a striking perspective on themes like racism and poverty at a time in the 1970s when such topics were only briefly discussed.
43. “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye, who was by far Motown’s most prolific artist, went through a lot of stages, and it was always for the best of his work.
Gaye is here to make love to his audience, and it performs better than just about any other ballad produced for the rest of the decade.
44. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” by The Four Tops
“I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” may be one of the most iconic Motown hits since it was released in that particular era of the label’s first five years and spent two weeks at the top of the Hot 100 and R&B charts.
The Holland-Dozier-Holland producing team’s ability to produce hits is exemplified by this song.
45. “Baby Love” by The Supremes
With the release of their second studio album, Where Did Our Love Go? The Supremes and the songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland established themselves as major players in the pop music industry.
The album’s title track and “Baby Love,” which has become the Supremes’ distinctive anthem, are both hits.
Best Motown Songs – Final Thoughts
In conclusion, the 45 best Motown songs of all time are a great way to get motivated and have some fun.
These songs are truly the best of Motown.
They have stood the test of time and continue to be popular today.
These classics never get old and are sure to please Motown fans of all ages.