Book Review: Rhythm Ride – A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound by Andrea Davis Pinkney

First Impressions/Why I Chose it:

When I was younger, my parents made it a habit of introducing me and my two siblings to all the music they had listened to when they were growing up: The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and of course the Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson. These were just some of the sounds of the beautiful black soundtrack that played through my house growing up (along with pretty much ALL the gospel music), and my siblings and I loathed it. What can I say? It was the late nineties and early two thousands and we had terrible taste in music and only really wanted to listen to the stuff they played on the hits radio station. I digress.

Basically, now that I’m past that stage and judge my music more by its merit instead of what the media tells me to like, I can fully and proudly appreciate the artists and songs that coursed through my household. And because now I’ve been even more intentional about reading books by people of color and learning more about my African American heritage, naturally I wanted to learn a little bit about the history of this music, this Motown Sound, that I could belt out easily, but otherwise knew nothing about.

Well, the first thing I learned was that Motown wasn’t just code for all black music from my parent’s era, but music that was produced in Detroit aka Motor City beginning around the 60s. Embarrassed at my lack of knowledge on this seemingly obvious point, I delved into Rhythm Ride hungry and ready to learn some more. And it did not disappoint.

The Review:

Right from the start, this book set itself apart. I expected it to be merely informational, but it turned out to be both that and much more conversational than I’d expect a non-fiction piece to be. In the beginning of the book the reader is introduced to the personified Groove, which tells you that it’s taking you on a road trip “to a place called Motown.” The Groove takes on the persona of a black elder (I actually thought of it as a mix between one of my aunts and my grandma), and often comments on things happening, as it tells the story, making it feel as if, at times, you’re not really reading the story, but listening to it. You make several “stops” along the ride (the different chapters), and the Groove lets you know when the ride is speeding up (good things happening for the development of Motown), or when you’re veering off course for some “ugly sightseeing.”

I wasn’t super sold on this method of storytelling in the beginning, but as the ride went on I began to like it more and more. It’s clever, comparing a journey through the creation of Motown to that of an actual road trip, and Pinkney really makes it work. I believe the fact that this is  technically supposed to be a children’s book plays into that. But although it is targeted at that age group, I don’t think adults should shy away from reading it..

There’s a lot of good information packed into this 170 page book. It starts out with a  biography of Berry Gordy, where he got his idea, how he developed it, and how it grew from an $800 family loan. It discusses a lot of the artists and how they got their start with Motown, how the songs were chosen, and how the whole Motown family worked together to produce so many hits. There are also chapters dedicated to some of the “behind the scenes” people working with Motown – the choreographer, the band of musicians, the song-writers, and one of my personal favorites, Miss Manners.

The overall tone of the book is optimistic, but it doesn’t shy away from speaking on topics that were happening at the time, and affecting the music and the singers, and the whole of the black community surrounding Motown – the Civil Rights Movement, the Detroit Riots, the Vietnam War. Because it gives such a general sweep, those looking for a little more information on a specific artists, or the influence Motown had on other artists or music, might feel a little disappointed, but otherwise, I can’t find much else others wouldn’t like about this book.

The Finale:

Rhythm Ride: A Trip Through the Motown Sound is exactly what it says it is. By the end, I felt like I’d just been on a road trip, which I’m pretty sure was the intention. It’s a short and easy, yet informational read. And it’s fun too. So if you’re looking for a starting point to begin your research on Motown, I definitely suggest beginning with Rhythm Ride.

Enjoy the groove, my friends.

My Rating: 5/5



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