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One of my smartest purchasing decisions was to pick up this work by Nelson George in June 1986 when it was still in hard cover. I've never let it out of my sight since. Time has proven it the precursor of a deluge: `Dreamgirl,' & `Supreme Faith' by Mary Wilson (1986, 1990), `Temptations' by Otis Williams (1988), `To Be Loved,' by Berry Gordy (1994), `Inside My Life' by Smokey Robinson (1989), `Dancing In The Street' by Martha Reeves (1994), and `Between Each Line of Pain and Glory,' by Gladys Knight (1997), among others. I bought them all and I read them all. By far the worst, was the October 1993 work by Diana Ross, `Secrets of a Sparrow,' which was quickly named the worst non-fiction work of the year by People magazine. I couldn't argue with them.
`Where Did Our Love Go,' on the other hand, proves a truth we discovered in the day of the very music it chronicles: no amount of tepid covers surpasses a towering original. Perhaps because Mr. George was not an insider at Motown in the 60s, his history of the company is so objectively good. I've read it many times in over 16 years, and haven't found a date or factual mistake.
And it is balanced. The wonderful music of those glory days in Detroit is given the respect and affection it deserves, as well as the how-it-came-about details. Mr. George acknowledges as most of us do, that Motown's 60s sound is timeless, and is going to outlive Berry Gordy, the artists whose names appeared on the labels, and we baby-boomers who were weaned on it.
Yes, the who-struck-John stories of disappointment are delineated fairly too: the career declines and /or disappointments of folks like Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight, Chuck Jackson, Marvin Gaye and, especially Florence Ballard. But unlike the recollections of the authors listed above, `Where' is not told by a writer needing to come out smelling blameless or put-upon at the end.
All these years later, `Where Did Our Love Go,' by Nelson George remains the single most essential biography of Motown Records you can own. Buy it anyway you can manage to, even used - just don't ask to borrow mine. Beyond it, there are two companion works you should also seek out for some fair and detailed `inside' looks of Motown in those days: `Divided Soul,' David Ritz' account of Marvin Gaye's life, which appeared first in 1985, and might have been helped in its excellence by the fact that its subject was no longer around to censor it or `advise.' Finally, from 1989, J. Randy Taraborrelli's `Call Her Miss Ross,' could likely be a dozen times more factual and objective than the 1993 work of the former Supreme herself could ever be!