Motown art work

Soulful Detroit Forum: Open Forum: Motown art work
Top of pageBottom of page   By ( - on Saturday, May 04, 2002 - 10:17 am:

who designed the art work and logos for motown, i remember the original uk label and then i saw those fantastic artwork for the us labels ,i was wondering was this done in house at motown and are there rejected designs out there?

Top of pageBottom of page   By john lester ( - on Saturday, May 04, 2002 - 12:25 pm:

The artwork seems to have been mostly done in house but not exclusively.....usually there is a credit somewhere. I remember the Let The Sunshine In album had Kittyhawk on it which was a name I hadn't heard before.

Billy Jean Brown seems to have been the leader over at Quality Control department and she would work alongside various departments including A&R Recording Engineer dept, Processing Dept and Graphics Dept and a name from that latter department was Horace Junior.

Unused out-takes of album covers do Motown Yesterday and Forever (the magazine), we pictured a few...a Contours album, a different unused cover of the Tops "Now" album, the Ruffin Brothers, (these later two I own), Marvin Gaye at the Copa - also the Supremes live, live live, Tops Jazz Workshop LP, Tony Martin live at the Americano. I have pictures of mock ups used for final album covers too such as Stevie in a cardboard box (Signed Sealed Delivered), Martha & The Vandellas in a candy bottle (Sugar and Spice) and even more versions, if that is possible..hahahha...... of Jr Walkers...Gotta Hold On to This Feeling LP!!

Then there were certain albums which had more than one front cover (16 Original big Hits ; Grapevine/In the Groove; Tops Macarthur Park; Miracles Make it Happen/Tears Of A Clown). But that also applied to back jackets - Rodgers and Hart, Supremes Copa lp).....Motown certainly knew how to make completists like me, spend my pocket money!

One thing that they didn't do often was to put different versions of the same song on an album like they did with Someday we'll be Together on the Cream of The Crop album. Usually a different version to the known version appeared on a collection LP. VOl 8 being (motown 666) the best of the bunch

Top of pageBottom of page   By Ritchie ( - on Saturday, May 04, 2002 - 02:36 pm:


Kittyhawk was a freelance design outfit owned by Dean Torrence (of the Jan and Dean surf duo). He set up the business after Jan's near-fatal accident, and Jan & Dean ceased to be a going concern. He designed more than a few album sleeves for various companies, though I wasn't aware he'd done work for Motown. So now you know!

Top of pageBottom of page   By john lester ( - on Saturday, May 04, 2002 - 03:18 pm:


I thought that was a co-incidence that Dean Torrence was mentioned on the album!!

So yes I do now know!! Thank you

Top of pageBottom of page   By ( - on Saturday, May 04, 2002 - 05:45 pm:

thanks for the info ,iam observatly missing a good magazine to read ,please give me further details, i didnt realize that there were different versions of songs out there ,but i was aware of tears of a clown having two different drum rytham ,one for the us market one for the uk

Top of pageBottom of page   By john lester ( - on Saturday, May 04, 2002 - 09:34 pm:

We stopped the magazine some years back now....we decided that paper was being overtaken by the Internet....

The "Make it Happen" LP was issued in the US and then the UK......when the 45 "Tears of a Clown" was issued in the UK in 1970 it became a number one record (knocked off the top of the UK chart by Freda Payne's Band Of Gold as it happens!)..the US saw the UK success and decided to take the song and add to it, remix it as well as slow it down to make it another number one hit in the US. The album Make It Happen was thus re-promoted in the USA but with a retitled cover.

Top of pageBottom of page   By M.McLeanTech ( - on Saturday, May 04, 2002 - 10:44 pm:

I just used the forum search function to see if "Barni Wright" brought up any hits, but found nothing. Here goes a "first" for the forum:

Soon after I joined Motown in January, 1961, it fell upon Mrs. Edwards to deal with the matter of covers for the albums. The idea of albums was a wild new departure for Motown at the time.

She hired a fellow named Barni Wright. He was a wonderful fellow who was friendly, groovy, and businesslike. I thought he did a great job of getting out a decent job, considering the circumstances. By this I mean limited pay, Etc. He was just what we needed at the time.

His name is on the first Supremes album: "Meet the Supremes," which is worth (if original, in mint condition, like mine is) in the three figures today. He made many other very early album covers.

I always was fasinated by the way he would stop and talk with you gladly, but at all times was formal and businesslike, while at the same time being able to extend understanding and rapport in any specific area that was of interest.

In that sense he was wonderful in the same way that the film actress Ann-Margaret was wonderful when I spoke to her for fifteen minutes at TODD-AO. At the time I was a nobody, but she had all the time in the world for me.

After making eye contact, the first thing is to start discussing elegant things. It works every time. The next best thing is to offer to park her car. Third on the list is is to offer excessive compliments. Next comes pulling out a pair of Hostess Twinkies from your bag. Don't step on them or you will gush your cream all over the place.

So much for the Mike McLean "charm school"

We could all learn an infinity, about how to be cool, from beautiful people like Barni Wright and Ann-Margaret.

Mike McLean

Top of pageBottom of page   By Ritchie ( - on Saturday, May 04, 2002 - 11:00 pm:

The art of Barni Wright - one example:

mary wells

Top of pageBottom of page   By M.McLeanTech ( - on Saturday, May 04, 2002 - 11:13 pm:


Good for you!!!!!

I love it!

You are one hip dude!

Mike McLean

Top of pageBottom of page   By M.McLeanTech ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 12:07 am:


I hope that you didn't take that analisis about time machines too seriously.

It was me that was the blabbermouth that was the one who was not clear.

A time machine can be a way to permanently move to a new scene. I would never want to do that. Where would I plug in my vibrator, if I arrived at the time (1888) that my father was born?

Please forgive me for my agressive attitude. I was drunk, as I wrote, as I am now.

I am going to play a record. It is the first cut on the "Meet the Supremes" album mentioned above.

"You'r Heart Belongs To Me."

Not particularly impressive. I will move to the next cut:

"Who's Loving You" Not the most ideal mix on the planet.

"Baby Don't Go" Sounds like a Robert Bateman job after Berry pressured him in another direction.

These are just impressions of a drunken man.

This entire effort to communicate is Oh, dear, there goes "Buttered Popcorn."

There is a story about this tune, which I was involved with.

I can't stand any more of this low life music. I am going to put on one of my favorites.


Now this is an album that actually offers some popular music that is not an insult to the intelligence of a serious music appreciator.

As far as I am concerned, you could dump the entire Motown catalog in the dumpster and replace it with what Bobby Short has been doing for the last last fourty years, and you would be much ahead of the game.

What ever became of the apprecation of elegance?

Ann-Margaret knew what elegance is about.

It helps to discuss something that can be looked up in an encyclopidia.

The supreme triumph is to start with a dicussion of reality, pass through matters of problems of human relations, and end up discussing the pains of being a person who walks about with a jug of reproductive organs that could explod with a new life at any moment.

This is a woman to marry.

There is nothing more sublime then a conventional marriage with a women. The problem is to find one without getting in trouble.

Mike McLean

Top of pageBottom of page   By M.McLeanTech ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 12:10 am:

I apolgise for commenting when I am drunk.

Mike McLean

Top of pageBottom of page   By Ralph ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 12:10 am:

A sad commentary about those early Motown album covers. You will notice that there are no photographs. Just drawings. It was felt that white America, even though they were embracing the music of Motown, was not quite ready to accept the black issue. Therefore, it was decided to forego actual photos of the artists so as to not " offend " anyone. Pretty sad huh?

Top of pageBottom of page   By Ralph ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 12:18 am:

No need to apologize. Hell, I've been trying to find the ideal woman for me for more years than I care to think of. Maybe one day the Almighty will decide I have suffered enough and throw me a keeper. Until then Mike, I raise a glass of my finest to our renewed friendship.

Top of pageBottom of page   By john Lester ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 06:53 am:


If you were to throw those Motown items in the dumpster, you will be destroying part of your life. So please don't do that. Right or wrong, it's your life.

My Detroit and Motown collection is my loves, my highs, disappointments, exam passes, failures, school, friends...I would be discarding my true identity

Now put that drink down and tell me about your involvment with the story of Buttered Popcorn...that's our dear Florence belting out "...MY baby loves BUTTERED POPCORN....he likes em greasy, and gooey....

Diana Ross wrote in her book Secrets of a Sparrow that she never did work out what that song was about.

Top of pageBottom of page   By Ritchie ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 10:01 am:


I've always thought that the use of cartoons on the early sleeves was more astute than sad. This way, the records could be safely shipped to the South without fear of rejection. In this way, Motown were no different to most other labels who released albums by black artists. There was an early 60s album by Lightnin' Hopkins whose cover pic was a close-up of hands on a guitar. Did Lightnin' REALLY have white hands?

Most of these early albums avoided an artist pic altogether, in favour of an illustrative cartoon or drawing, or a photo of kids listening to or dancing to the music... nice, clean WASP kids, of course :o(

Top of pageBottom of page   By Ralph ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 01:44 pm:

I suppose astutue is a good word in this particular case Ritchie.It's just a sad commentary on the way things were at that time.

Top of pageBottom of page   By john lester ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 02:05 pm: was great to be in the midst of it all and seeing it all change for the better. Right gripping stuff, too.

In fact, I heard it described once as "guaranteed to put hair on your chest" stuff although it didn't quite get THAT far with me.

Top of pageBottom of page   By Ritchie ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 02:06 pm:


Yes, I agree. Though, let's remember - we are talking about the days before Bill Cosby co-starred in a top TV series (I Spy), before Dr King revealed his "Dream" to the nation, before Gene Roddenberry had the nerve to cast a black actress as the Starship Enterprise's Communications Officer, and before Motown was the #1 record label in the US. I don't think I'm exaggerating to suggest that Motown played a valuable part in the integration of Black artists into the Entertainment mainstream.

Top of pageBottom of page   By Ralph ( - on Sunday, May 05, 2002 - 02:15 pm:

I totally agree with you. Motown's part in this is no less important than Cosby's, King's, Roddenberry's or anyone else.

Top of pageBottom of page   By jack ( - on Tuesday, May 07, 2002 - 06:01 am:

I would like to chime in on that note. When you read my book you will see that Motown really learned a lot about discrimination and how to use it . Just read my book and see. Thanks. Jack

Top of pageBottom of page   By john Lester ( - on Tuesday, May 07, 2002 - 08:47 am:


I tried to play your HOTEL SHEET last night but I decided you do it a whole lot better than I ever will!

What a great album......and so nice to see many of your friends helping you out. Thanks

Top of pageBottom of page   By lorne McDougall ( - on Saturday, May 18, 2002 - 12:29 pm:

Speaking of Album Covers, I bought a book last week, "Heart & Soul: a celebration of black music style in America, 1930-1975, by Bob Merlis/Davin Seay. It has great album covers, some motown, some Cameo-parkway etc. Does such a book exist for the Motown album covers? What a wonderful nostalgia trip--I wish I had taken better care of my album covers---I wish I had put my records back inside my album covers.

Top of pageBottom of page   By acooolcat ( - on Saturday, May 18, 2002 - 12:58 pm:

Does anyone know who was responsible for the Motown label's map design?
A couple of Detroit labels that I think are interesting pieces of mid-60's artwork are the earlier Groovesville and later Solid Hit ones (with the Mod dots).
The Sound City label (The Sharpettes - Lost In The World Of A Dream) has a certain charm and looks like a homemade job.
There are many albums that you can buy quite cheaply (under 5 dollars) that have nice covers. So even if the vinyl is trashed, you can frame the cover and hang it on the wall.

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