Archive for the ‘Berry Gordy’ Category

The Contours

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Side 1:

Listen: Can You Jerk Like Me / The Contours

Listen: That Day When She Needed Me / The Contours

Side 2:

Listen: Can You Do It / The Contours

Listen: I’ll Stand By You / The Contours

Looking back, The Contours probably released more dance instruction songs than anybody, with a possible exception being Chubby Checker. ‘Can You Jerk Like Me’ was one of their earliest.

They were never an act to achieve much more than lower chart success in the US, and excepting the reissue of ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’, none in the UK. They mirror The Marvelettes in Motown’s history books. That being, there was always some other act getting the best songs from their in-house writing machines, and ultimately the push at radio.

And like The Marvelettes, for my two cents, that became a benefit. Not to take away from The Four Tops or The Temptations, clearly on the A list then, but the quick in/quick out studio policy meant The Contours’ records remained unpolished and messier in the best way.

So in Berry Gordy’s world, if The Marvelettes were to The Supremes as The Rolling Stones were to The Beatles, let’s take it a rung lower in the case of The Contours. They were to The Temptations what The Pretty Things were to The Beatles.

Hence I covet every single they ever recorded. And heavens knows, no price is too high for their only EP.

LaBrenda Ben & The Beljeans

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Listen: The Chaperone / LaBrenda Ben & The Beljeans

LaBrenda Ben was an early Motown signing, releasing ‘Camel Walk’ b/w ‘The Chaperone’ in December ’62. By the end of ’63 though, with just two Gordy singles on the market, she and her group were dropped, thereby also becoming an early roster casualty. Too bad. Sure sounds like she could sing to me, even have succeeded with some Holland-Dozier-Holland or Smokey Robinson songs.

Years later, this B side gained some traction in Northern Soul clubs. The label eventually repressed ‘The Chaperone’ as an A side, this time on Motown (M 1033) as opposed to the original Gordy (G 7009). In keeping with Northern Soul’s formula of non hit Motown sounding knock-offs though, ‘The Chaperone’ more than fits the bill. Just shy of a real chorus, the metallic thumps and all the right jingle jangles were almost enough to cover for lack of one. Records like this came off the label’s conveyer belt as often as cars did down the street. All in all, ‘The Chaperone’ might have worked if only it had gotten some airplay as opposed to being relegated to the flip.

Listen: I Can’t Help It, I Gotta Dance / LaBrenda Ben

Cursed with a seemingly misspelled stage name, LaBrenda’s back up singers’ moniker, The Beljeans, probably didn’t help.

Looks as though that opinion wasn’t mine alone, given they were nowhere in sight on the label copy for their followup and swan song.

No idea who was making the decisions around Motown then, but legend has it Berry Gordy was a major control freak, and he clearly knew a hit. So how did ‘I Can’t Help It, I Gotta Dance’ end up as a B side? I thought lightning never struck twice.

Not only, as with ‘The Chaperone’, was ‘I Can’t Help It, I Gotta Dance’ the noticeably stronger track, the song was about The Contours. And they were on the label for God’s sake.

The Contours

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Listen: Shake Sherry / The Contours

The musical chairs surrounding the often interchanging members of The Contours will have your head spinning if you let it. Some of the guys still perform today, and a family tree type timeline is readily available on Wikipedia. But be forewarned, it’s for the clear headed only and I do commend whoever got all those details together.

‘Shake Sherry’, one of the many lyrically intentional dance songs the group recorded, followed up their only Top 10, ‘Do You Love Me’. As with the majority of their other 60′s Gordy label releases, it peaked mid chart (#43). Seemingly in the shadow of The Temptations and The Four Tops, apparently The Contours were the act whose wild live performances on those Motown Revue package tours would truly tear the house down.

Even despite being written by Berry Gordy himself, and getting a top vocal drill by Billy Gordon, the record just didn’t get the muscle at radio from the Motown machine. Who the hell let that happen?

The Contours ended up benefitting from numerous Northern Soul dj’s bringing many of their records justice years later. And in fact, when ‘Do You Love Me’ was used in 1987′s DIRTY DANCING, the re-released single found it’s way back into the US BILLBOARD chart, peaking at #11. As we all know, a very uncommon result in America.

Ty Hunter

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Listen: Bad Loser / Ty Hunter TyHunterBadLoser.mp3

With Berry Gordy’s sister Gwen, Billy Davis started Anna Records in ’59, and later the Checkmate label in ’61. Both were distributed by Chess and one of their first Anna signings were The Voice Masters, whose various members took the lead vocal, depending on the track. Ty Hunter was one, as were David Ruffin and Lamont Dozier.

That web and family tree is all tangled but in a good way. Simultameously, Ty Hunter released singles for each imprint, and had moderate RnB success.

When Gordy/Davis eventually sold the masters of both imprints to Chess, Ty Hunter continued as a solo artist for that label, and released a handful of 7′s. None were hits, but years later became in demand. He’s seldom name checked in the history of RnB/Soul but the purists among us had been well aware for years.

The one Chess release of his that eluded me until now, ‘Bad Loser’, became a jaw dropping Sunday morning rummage sale find. ’tis that season again.

Listen: Something Like A Storm / Ty Hunter TyHunterSomethingLike.mp3

Like Hi, Motown, Stax etc, each company’s entire roster seems to have played, recorded, written and produced each other. Noticing Bo Diddley co-wrote this B side, I can’t help wondering, is that him on the bv’s, did he play on it, was he there?

After Ty Hunter’s run with Chess ended, he joined The Originals in ’71. Signed to Motown, and with Marvin Gaye producing some of their intital hits, they continued to have a decent run of US RnB chart entries. Ty Hunter finally got some deserved recognition – it only took fifteen years or so.

The Marvelettes

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game / The Marvelettes

Listen: The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game / The Marvelletes MarvelettesHunter.mp3

I loved The Supremes, who didn’t? But there’s something about the underdogs that make them even more appealing to me. Happens every time.

I guess The Rolling Stones (who I always preferred) were considered second to The Beatles for a while there; and then The Pretty Things to The Stones. Or as I mentioned in an earlier post, Inez & Charlie Foxx to Ike & Tina Turner.

Like Martha & The Vandellas, The Marvelettes were certainly playing second fiddle, at best, to The Supremes over at Motown. There’s a terrific book CALLING OUT AROUND THE WORLD / A MOTOWN READER by Kingsley Abbott, detailing (and I mean detailing) those heydays of Motown. It describes the songwriting rivalries, struggles for priorities, everything. It’s a fascinating read. According to Kingsley, William Robinson, or Smokey as we know him, was always under appreciated by Berry Gordy. Even when coming off of a hit, Smokey’d be starting over. Marvin Gaye too. The girl groups were in a constant struggle to get first dibs on the strongest new songs. It’s why Mary Wells left the fold – well at least according to this book.

In the case of The Marvelettes, there were few occasions when they got those gems. Like ‘The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game’ (another Smokey composition), many of The Marvelettes releases had a slight darkness to them – not quite as glistening with all the pop flash that those Supremes singles packed, hence their cult appeal? Probably.

I'll Keep Holding On / The Marvelettes

Listen: I’ll Keep Holding On / The Marvelletes MarvelettesHoldingOn.mp3

Let’s face it – The Marvelettes were hip. Hats off to The Action for the brave and triumphant cover of ‘I’ll Keep Holding On’

My Baby Must Be A Magician / The Marvelettes

My Baby Must Be A Magician / The Marvelettes - UK

Listen: My Baby Must Be A Magician / The Marvelettes MarvelettesMagician.mp3

And thank you to Tony King for generously giving me the UK promocopy of ‘My Baby Must Be A Magician’ pictured above.

The Contours

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

The Contours / Just a Little

ContoursLittleUKA, The Contours, Tamla

Listen: Just a Little Misunderstanding / The Contours 06 Just A Little Misunderstanding.mp3

Most times the really successful acts are great, but after they’re pounded into your brain relentlessly, you can go off them a bit. The Beach Boys come to mind and their biggest hits at that. I love ‘California Girls’ but never need to hear it again. Likewise ‘Hey Jude’ or ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’.

So yeah, we all loved The Supremes and The Four Tops too, but those lesser known Motown acts were just as great. Some had the occasional smash, Like Mary Wells or The Marvelettes, yet some just never got near their fair share. Like The Contours.

It’s in hindsight I’ve come to appreciated them. Northern Soul has given a lot of great singles an unexpected success story, if not in big sales at least in big appreciation. ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’ is one. I heard this on a few of those truly great Northern comps like THE IN CROWD – THE STORY OF NORTHERN SOUL and it’s accompanying must-read book.

Gladys Knight & The Pips

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

GladysEndRoad, Motown, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Soul, Norman Whitfield

Listen: The End Of Our Road / Gladys Knight & The Pips GladysEndRoad.mp3

Feeling victims, as were The Marvelettes and Mary Wells, of being tossed the leftovers, those songs passed on by Motown’s A level acts (The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations) according to legend, really pissed off Gladys Knight and her Pips (all family members as it turns out). Having moved from Vee Jay to Motown in ’65 with wider success in mind, they quickly found themselves relegated to subsidiary Soul, set up for the more RnB, less leaning pop acts. good call there. From ’66 – ’68, they recorded some of the label’s dirtiest and most raw sides. I’m sure to Berry Gordy’s surprise, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ became the company’s biggest selling single at that point, leaping to #2 pop and bringing Gladys Knight’s signature rasp to the mainstream.

Even better was “The End Of Our Road’, it’s followup. Peaking at #15 on Billboard’s Hot 100, it was a mighty strong showing for such a picture perfect dirt and grime black single. Their performance, recording and mix are so aggressive, it’s impossible to not be dragged in. Played this a few nights ago at the Otis Clay show – it sounded mighty powerful through that big system, filled the room, every last head and foot surrendering.

Mary Wells

Friday, February 26th, 2010

MaryWellsBeatMeUSA, Mary Wells, Atco, Motown, Oriole
MaryWellsPunchUK, Mary Wells, Atco, Motown, Oriole

Listen: You Beat Me To The Punch / Mary Wells MaryWellsPunch.mp3

I agree with those who say Mary Wells was the first lady of Motown, well if I turn a blind eye to Brenda Holloway, Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell that is. I guess because she had the biggest pop crossover hit out of the bunch with ‘My Guy’ sort of justifies it. Whatever, she had the voice and the presence. There are some fantastic shots of her on various UK album sleeves, and that blond hair dye job turned brassy orange – I just love it.

No question, she and Smokey Robinson were a perfect match and gave her the biggest successes. Same with The Marvelettes. It’s just something about his productions, maybe it’s the drum sound or use of vibes combined with handclaps. Some magic recipe was definitely at work, I never could put my finger on it though.

MaryWellsTwoUSA, Mary Wells, Atco, Motown, Oriole
MaryWellsTwoUKA, Mary Wells, Atco, Motown, Oriole

Listen: Two Lovers / Mary Wells MaryWellsTwoLovers.mp3

Then there’s the lyrical twist, most prevalent on ‘Two Lovers’. It doesn’t get much more clever than this. What happens at the end of this song again, how does the two lovers thing play out? I forget every time.

It’s a drag about the royalty issue that drove Mary Wells from Motown. Once burned, it’s sometimes hard for certain folks to move beyond it – by all counts, that summed up her attitude toward Berry Gordy. And so the downward spiral began.

MaryWellsDearLover, Mary Wells, Atco, Carl Davis
MaryWellsDearLoverUKA, Mary Wells, Atco, Motown, Oriole

Listen: Dear Lover / Mary Wells MaryWellsDearLover.mp3

The fact that ‘Dear Lover’ was substandard compared to any of the Smokey songs, in a way, became the appeal. I do love a struggle to polish up something fairly mediocre in the world of singles and follow-ups. I find it rather interesting, the way all parties involved go through the motions, hoping no one else will notice that it’s actually not very good.

In the case of ‘Dear Lover’, seems producer Carl Davis basically tried copying the Motown sound – unsuccessfully. Is that a description of Northern Soul or what? Exactly the whole point of the genre, making substandard copy attempts glorious in their own way.

Probably the most Northern of any Mary Wells track, it’s absolutely become a favorite.