“Every day I watched how a bare metal frame, rolling down the line would come off the other end, a spanking brand new car…Maybe, I could do the same thing with my music.  Create a place where a kid off the street could walk in one door, an unknown…and come out another door, a star.”          –Berry Gordy, Jr., Motown founder

After seeing this quote from Berry Gordy, Jr., I couldn’t resist the chance to read Andrea Davis Pinkney’s book Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound.  It’s a nice introduction to the story behind one of America’s iconic record labels and an interesting contribution to non-fiction written for teens.

Rhythm Ride provides an overview of Berry Gordy, Jr.’s career from his roots in an entrepreneurial family in Detroit through the height of Motown’s success to his relocation to the West Coast and the sale of the company.  The book digs into the history of Motown Records beginning with Gordy’s desire to bring African American music to the forefront of American culture.  The author explores Gordy’s influences and how he, in turn, influenced a wide variety of artists.  She details the early years of Motown with its nurturing, family atmosphere when a teenager could literally answer the phones then turn right around to become one of its hit-makers. (Martha Reeves!)

While she takes her readers behind the scenes at Motown, Angela Davis Pinkney doesn’t delve into gossip.  Instead, she summarizes prevailing opinions just enough to show how public opinion and employee perceptions led to artists departing the record company.  Despite her generally positive approach to Gordy, she isn’t afraid to point out when his judgment or actions weren’t in Motown’s best interest.  She also puts the label’s story into context by relating it to events of the time such as the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.  Rhythm Ride lures readers with the 1960s vibe of its cover and offers a variety of vintage, black and white photographs inside its pages.  An informative timeline and discography round out its resources.

For the most part, Rhythm Ride is written as an accessible introduction to a pivotal time in America’s cultural history.  The author, however, adds an unexpected layer to her researched text.  The first chapter introduces an imaginary narrator named The Groove who proceeds to address the reader throughout the book, acting as a transition between chapters and offering commentary on historical events, on the premise that it and the reader are on a road trip together through music history.  The effect can be disconcerting as the book vacillates between approaches, and it could make or break the book for some readers.  Those who enjoy this extra voice will enjoy the whole package.  Those who are able to look past this technique will find an interesting, readable book.

Whether you appreciate the author’s approach or not, Rhythm Ride offers a solid history of Motown Records as well as a glimpse into a pivotal time in American history.  Offer this title to teens who are deeply interested in pop music history or the 1960s and ‘70s.  Or, read it yourself while enjoying the Motown sound.  It’s a great excuse to enjoy some amazing music!