7. “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and the Vandellas (1967)
Originally recorded in March 1964, the tapes sat unheard on a shelf for three years after they were red-flagged by Motown’s notorious quality control team. Allegedly they feared that a song about a woman whose boyfriend who had been sent away would draw uncomfortable comparisons to the growing military action in Vietnam. But as time went on and the public opinion on the conflict soured, record execs decided that the subtle social commentary would aid the already-catchy single. They released it in February 1967, and it soon became a top ten hit. It wouldn’t be the last time Motown would shy away from contemporary events…
6. “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye (1971)
Most people really like Gaye’s socially conscious ode to a nation divided, at least enough to take it to Number 2 on the Billboard Charts and make it a beloved classic. The song was ranked 4th on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and 14th on VH1’s list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs. So it’s fairly safe to assume that “What’s Goin’ On” has a lot of fans. But Motown Records founder Berry Gordy was not one of them. He dismissed the finished product as “the worst thing I ever heard in my life,” citing the jazzy-feel as not fitting with the Motown sound. “That Dizzy Gillespie stuff in the middle, that scatting, it’s old,” he railed. He also balked at the straight-from-the-headlines lyrics, feeling that Marvin’s protest song was simply going too far. Gordy flatly refused to issue the song, and Gaye countered by going on strike, refusing to record any new material until the track was released. Feeling the pinch from losing one of their biggest recording artists, Gordy relented and put the song out in January 1971.