Some significant artists and songs for this year of Motown…
When he was just a youngster, Barrett Strong moved with his family from Mississippi to Detroit Michigan,where his cousin Nolan Strong was living. This became his home town and Barrett began singing at local clubs, where he met a young songwriter named Berry Gordy, Jr. Berry asked Barrett if he would like to sing a song that Berry had written with Janie Bradford, called “Money”. Barrett said yes , and they recorded the song for Berry’s Anna records (named after Berry’s sister).
Money (That’s What I Want): Barrett Strong. Pop #23 R&B #2
This song became one of the first major hits for Berry, who was just starting. Later Barrett became a writer for Motown, writing many of the Temptations hits, “I wish it would Rain” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone“. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles:
[See also our post: Smokey Robinson and The Miracles]
William “Smokey” Robinson
Claudette (Rodgers) Robinson
Warren “Pete” Moore
Hometown: Detroit Michigan
Of all the R&B vocal groups formed in Detroit, Michigan, USA, in the mid-50s, The Miracles proved to be the most successful. They were founded at the city’s Northern High School in 1955 by Smokey Robinson (b. William Robinson, 19 February 1940, Detroit, Michigan, USA), Emerson Rogers, Bobby Rogers (b. 19 February 1940, Detroit, Michigan, USA), Ronnie White (b. 5 April 1939, Detroit, Michigan, USA, d. 26 August 1995) and Warren ‘Pete’ Moore (b. 19 November 1939, Detroit, Michigan, USA). Emerson Rogers left the following year, and was replaced by his sister Claudette, who married Smokey Robinson in 1959.
Known initially as The Matadors, the group became the Miracles in 1958, when they made their initial recordings with producer, Berry Gordy. Gordy released their debut, ‘Got A Job‘ (an answer record to the Silhouettes’ major hit ‘Get A Job‘), to End Records, produced a duet by Ron (White) And Bill (Robinson) for Argo, and licensed the classic doo-wop novelty ‘Bad Girl‘ to Chess Records in 1959.
The following year, Gordy signed the Miracles directly to his fledgling Motown Records label. Recognizing the youthful composing talents of Smokey Robinson, he allowed the group virtual free rein in the studio, and was repaid when they issued ‘Way Over There‘, a substantial local hit, and then ‘Shop Around‘, which broke both the Miracles and Motown to a national audience.
Shop Around: The Miracles (featuring Smokey Robinson) Pop #2 R&B #1
This song demonstrated the increasing sophistication of Robinson’s writing, which provided an unbroken series of hits for the group over the next few years.
Video: You Better Shop Around
Their raw, doo-wop sound would be further refined on the Top 10 hit ‘You Really Got A Hold On Me‘ in 1962, a soulful ballad that became a worldwide standard after the Beatles covered it in 1963.
You Really Got A Hold On Me
Robinson went on to become in demand by other Motown artists: Gordy used him as a one-man hit factory, to mastermind releases by the Temptations and Mary Wells, and the Miracles’ own career suffered slightly as a result.
William “Smokey” Robinson’s high tenor is his calling card, but he’s also one of the most important songwriters and producers of the 1960s. The only Motown artist to write and produce his own recordings from the beginning, he also wrote and produced many of the most memorable songs for Motown’s other acts: “Ain’t That Peculiar” for Marvin Gaye; “My Guy” for Mary Wells; “My Girl” and “Get Ready” for the Temptations.
He also kept plenty of top material for himself, from early hits like “Shop Around” and “Ooh Baby Baby” to the Sound Of Young America classics “The Tracks Of My Tears” (which inspired the Zombies’ “Time Of The Season“)and “The Tears Of A Clown” (co-written with Stevie Wonder).
Smokey has an ear for catchy melodies and was a perfectionist producer and arranger, but his most important contribution was his lyrics: probably the most cleverly written love songs of the period, often working an extended metaphor to death. Just listen to “The Way You Do The Things You Do” by the Temptations or the Supremes’ “The Composer” or Smokey’s own “More Love” or “I Second That Emotion” and you’ll see what I mean.
Bob Dylan once called Robinson America’s greatest living poet, and I suspect he wasn’t kidding.(Dylan later said it was a slip of the tongue and he’d meant to say Artur Rimbaud, who was neither alive nor American, but whatever.)