Some significant artists and songs for this year of Motown:
Mary Wells, The Contours, Marvin Gaye…
Hometown: Detroit Michigan
Time and legions of other soul superstars have obscured the fact that for a brief moment, Mary Wells was Motown’s biggest star. She came to the attention of Berry Gordy and Jackie Wilson; that song, “Bye Bye Baby“, became her first Motown hit in 1961. The full-throated approach of that single was quickly toned down in favor of a pop-soul sound. Few other soul singers managed to be as shy and sexy at the same time as Wells (Barbara Lewis is the only other that springs to mind), and the soft-voiced singer found a perfect match with the emerging Motown production team, especially Smokey Robinson.
Robinson wrote and produced her biggest Motown hits: “Two Lovers“, “You Beat Me To The Punch“, and “The One Who Really Loves You“.
Two Lovers: Mary Wells (written & produced by Smokey Robinson) Pop # 7
You beat me to the Punch: Mary Wells Pop # 9 R&B # 1
The One who really Loves You: Mary Wells Pop # 8 R&B # 2
All 3 songs made the Top Ten in 1961, and “My Guy” would hit the number one spot in mid-1964, at the very height of Beatlemania.
Mary turned 21 years old as “My Guy” was rising to the top of the charts, and left Motown almost immediately afterward for a reported advance of several hundred thousand dollars from 20th Century Fox. The circumstances remain cloudy years later, but Wells and her husband-manager felt Motown wasn’t coming through with enough money for their new superstar; she was also lured by the prospect of movie roles through 20th Century Fox (which never materialized).
It’s been rumored that Wells was being groomed for the sort of plans that were subsequently lavished upon Diana Ross; more nefariously, it’s also been rumored that Motown quietly discouraged radio stations from playing Wells’ subsequent releases. What is certain is that Wells never remotely approached the success of her Motown years, entering the pop Top 40 only once (although she had some R&B hits).
Motown, for their part, took care throughout the rest of the ’60s not to lose their big stars to larger labels.
Wells’ departure from Motown was so dramatic and unsuccessful that it has tended to overshadow the quality of her later work, which has almost always been dismissed as trivial by critics. True, it didn’t match the quality of her Motown recordings — Smokey Robinson could not be replaced. But her ’60s singles for 20th Century Fox (whom she ended up leaving after only a year), Atco, and Jubilee were solid pop-soul on which her vocal talents remained undiminished.
She wrote and produced a lot of her late-’60s and early-’70s sessions with her second husband, guitarist Cecil Womack (brother of Bobby), and these found her exploring a somewhat earthier groove than her more widely known pop efforts.
She had trouble landing recording deals in the ’70s and ’80s, and succumbed to throat cancer in 1992.
Hometown: Detroit Michigan
Billy Gordon, Billy Hoggs, Joe Billingslea and Billy Rollins founded a singing group called The Blenders in their native Detroit, Michigan in 1959. The group soon added Leroy Fair (in place of Billy Rollins), bass singer Hubert Johnson, and guitarist Huey Davis, and auditioned for Berry Gordy’s Motown Records. Gordy turned the act down, prompting Johnson to call his cousin, R&B star and Gordy associate Jackie Wilson. Wilson in turn got The Contours a second audition with Gordy, at which they sang the same songs they had at the first audition, the same way, and were signed to the company.
The group’s first singles, “Whole Lotta Woman” and “The Stretch”, were unsuccessful, and the group was in danger of being let go. Also at this time, Leroy Fair was replaced with Sylvester Potts. In early 1962, Gordy had the Contours record “Do You Love Me”, a composition originally meant for The Temptations.
Do You Love Me: The Contours Pop #3 R&B #1
This record, with its shouted lead vocals from Billy Gordon, became a #2 hit 1962.
In 1964, Billy Hoggs, Joe Billingslea, Hubert Johnson, and Sylvester Potts would all quit the group. Berry Gordy hired Council Gay, Jerry Green and Alvin English to back Billy Gordon, making the Contours a quartet. Within a year, Sylvester Potts returned to the group (replacing Alvin English), but Billy Gordon departed at about the same time. Gordon was replaced by Joe Stubbs, brother of Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs. Stubbs soon quit the act and was replaced by Dennis Edwards.
In 1988 “Do You Love Me” would be used in the Motion Picture “Dirty Dancing”, it raced up the charts AGAIN to #11, actually selling more the second time!
Video: Marvin Gaye – Ain’t That Peculiar
Hometown: Detroit Michigan
Marvin Gaye, (Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. Washington, D.C., April 2, 1939 – Los Angeles, California, April 1, 1984) was a pop, soul, rock and roll and rhythm and blues singer, arranger, musician, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and record producer.
Gaye began his career in Motown in 1960, and soon became Motown’s top solo male artist. One of his first really big hits in 1962 was “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”.
Stubborn Kind of Fellow: Marvin Gaye (Vocal accompaniment the Vandellas) Pop # 46 R&B # 8.
Marvin Gaye – Stubborn Kind of Fellow
He would go on to have several other hits: “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “One More Heart Ache“.
Marvin Gaye – One More Heart Ache (Tamla/1966)
“One More Heartache” was a Top 30 Pop hit, peaking at number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, and a Top 10 R&B hit , peaking at number four on the R&B singles chart. The single was written by the team of The Miracles members Bobby Rogers, Marv Tarplin, Pete Moore and Smokey Robinson and produced by Robinson.
Gaye also had several hit duets with Tammi Terrell, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “You’re All I Need to Get By”, before moving on to his own form of musical self-expression.
Along with Stevie Wonder, Gaye was notable for fighting Motown’s hit-making process, in which performers and songwriters and record producers were generally kept in separate camps. This process would prove to be creatively restrictive.
In 1971, Gaye would force Motown to release his album What’s Going On, which is today hailed as one of the best albums of all time. Subsequent releases proved that Gaye, who had been a part-time songwriter for Motown artists during his early years with the label, could write and produce his own singles without having to rely on the Motown system.
Other Hits of That Year
You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me: The Miracles (written & produced Smokey Robinson) Pop # 8 R&B #1
Beechwood 4-5789: The Marvelettes Pop # 17 R&B #7