Posts Tagged ‘The Marvelettes’

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.

The Marvelettes

Friday, December 6th, 2013

THE MARVELETTES / The Marvelettes:

Side 1:

Listen: Too Many Fish In The Sea / The Marvelettes

Listen: He’s A Good Guy (Yes He Is) / The Marvelettes

Side 2:

Listen: You’re My Remedy / The Marvelettes

Listen: Little Girl Blue / The Marvelettes

If you believe all the accusations contained in the handful of detailed Motown history books on the market, The Marvelettes got the second tier of important songs coming off the in-house songwriting assembly line. The cream of the most obviously commercial works went to The Supremes. It had been deemed early on that they were the label’s female superstars, and so The Marvelettes had fewer home run hits, but in the end, came off more intellectual. One might even slot them in as Motown’s biggest cult group.

Mind you, The Supremes were great, I loved them. The world loved them. But The Marvelettes, they had the darker slant, minor key at times, thereby giving them edge, even a touch of danger.

Their patch of Smokey Robinson written and produced ’66 to ’68 singles rate amongst Motown’s highest calibre. ‘The Hunter Gets Captured By THe Game’ and ‘My Baby Must Be A Magician’ to name a few.

But this EP, with earlier songs from ’63 – ’64 and their accompanying Motown bounce, mark a time when all things were a bit more juvenile and created a bit more equal, and the first division songs went around to all.

In the end, my two cents maintains The Marvelettes were to The Supremes what The Rolling Stones were to The Beatles. And I just love that.

Al Grey

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Listen: Salty Papa / Al Grey AlGreySaltyPapa.mp3

Ella Fitzgerald’s version of ‘Black Coffee’ is classic. Some adult radio station spun it while riding in a friend’s parent’s car back in the early 70′s. His Dad was driving us somewhere or another, a couple of hours away, and everyone was well fidgety trying to tolerate the music. Indeed, it was a challenge until this came on, then suddenly worth the struggle.

Soon after, I found a promo of her then current Reprise album, THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE, in a used shop for $1.00. Not only was ‘Black Coffee’ included, but her rendition of ‘Sunny’ was as well. Perfect.

Al Grey featured on the trombone. Although not one for brass, it was hard to ignore his post-swing era style, almost muzak or bachelor pad. You couldn’t have matched a better player to the songs.

Fast forward to September 2010. While rummaging through a Detroit junk shop, I came across a fairly beat copy of Al Grey’s ‘Salty Papa’ on Argo. A no brainer at 25ยข.

Somewhat more in the Lionel Hampton or Dizzy Gillespie pocket than I was expecting, ‘Salty Papa’ has still settled nicely into the Seeburg’s C4 slot, parked between The Marvelettes’ ‘I’ll Keep On Holding On’ and Lee Perry’s ‘Roast Fish And Cornbread’…and sounding perfectly at home.

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.