Jack Coll’s Talkin’ Music
A MOTOWN REVUE
By Jack Coll
Certainly you remember the Motown hits, “My Girl,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and “Dancing in the Street.” The music was a driving, foot-tapping, hit-the-dance-floor sound provided by the band known as the Funk Brothers on all the early Motown hits.
The Motown Record Company was founded by Berry Gordy Jr. as Tamla Records in January 1959. A year later the company was incorporated as Motown Record Corporation in April of 1960, in Detroit Michigan. Berry Gordy played an important role in the racial integration of popular music as an African American-owned record label that achieved significant crossover success.
Gordy had a stable full of talent that included Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Marvelettes, The Four Tops, Mary Wells, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, The Contours, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Edwin Starr, Jimmy Ruffin, Tammi Terrell, Shorty Long, The Originals, David Ruffin, The Isley Brothers, Brenda Holloway, and that’s just the early groups during the 1960’s.
While I enjoyed all the Motown acts of the 1960’s I absolutely loved The Four Tops, The Marvelettes and Martha and the Vandellas. The Four Tops formed as the Four Aims before arriving at Motown and being renamed The Four Tops. Levi Stubbs was the lead singer of the group along with members Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and Lawrence Payton, the original four members of the band remained together for more than four decades from 1953 until 1997.
The Four Tops breakthrough song at Motown came in 1964 with “Baby I Need Your Loving” followed up by “Without the One You Love (Life’s Not Worth While) and “Ask The Lonely.” In 1965 the Four Tops took the dance floor to a higher level with songs like I’ Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Something About You,” “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There.”
Other Four Top songs included:
“Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever”
“Standing In The Shadows of Love”
“7-Rooms of Gloom”
“If I were A Carpenter”
“Walk Away Renee”
“Still Water (Love)”
“River Deep-Mountain High” (with the Supremes)
“Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)”
“Seven Lonely Nights”
“When She Was My Girl”
And then there was the Marvelettes! I very much enjoyed the music of the Marvelettes, the original group was made up of Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, Juanita Cowart and Georgia Dobbins, later replaced by Wanda Young. The girls formed the group in high school at Inkster High located in Inkster, Michigan and signed with Motown in early 1961. They were the second successful act signed by Berry Gordy after signing The Miracles. The Marvelettes landed their first Number One Hit with “Please Mr. Postman,” it was one of the first number-one singles recorded by an all-female vocal group and the first by a Motown recording act.
The group’s early songs were written by band-members and some of Motown’s rising singer-song writers like Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye who played drums on many of the early Motown recordings. Despite their early success, the group was eclipsed in popularity by groups like The Supremes, with whom they shared an intense rivalry.
The Marvelettes biggest hits included “Please Mr. Postman” and “Don’t Mess With Bill.” My three most favorite songs by the Marvelettes included their 1967 hit, “ When You’re Young And In Love,” and “Forever,” (Darling Forever)
One of the more enduring songs sung by the Marvelettes was “Destination: Anywhere” written by the power singer-song writer duo Ashford & Simpson. In 1968 they penned “Destination Anywhere” which was a mild hit for the Marvelettes on the US Pop Charts and went to number 28 on the Rhythm and Blues Chart. The song surfaced years later in the hit movie “The Commitments” where members of the Commitments sing “Destination Anywhere” while riding on a train in the movie.
Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson had a hit of their own with “Solid”, (Solid as a rock) in 1984, but Ashford and Simpson wrote hundreds of songs over the years, a partial list of their songs appears below:
“The Real Thing” Sung by Betty Everett
“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” Sung by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrel
“Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” Sung by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
You’re All I Need To Get By” Sung by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
“Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand) Sung by Diana Ross
“Remember Me” Sung by Diana Ross
“Surrender” Sung by Diana Ross
“I’m Every Woman” Sung by Chaka Khan
“Landlord” Sung by Gladys Knight and the Pips
The list of songs written by Ashford and Simpson is a long one so listed below are a few of the other artist who have performed their songs.
The Guess Who
Diana Ross and the Supremes
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
Ben E. King
And many others
I really enjoyed the Marvelettes in the early years and had the pleasure of seeing them in concert years ago but unfortunately the original members had moved on or passed away. In 1964 original member Georgeanna Tillman, a long time sufferer of sickle cell anemia was diagnosed with lupus. In 1965 Georgeanna took the advice of her doctor and left the group unable to perform with her illnesses.
By 1967 Gladys Horton decided to leave the Marvelettes after her first child, Sammie, was born with cerebral palsy. Wanda Young Rodgers who had replaced Georgia Dobbins early on had suffered from a number of personal problems for some-time and became unreliable and difficult to work with, went out on her own in 1970. After Motown moved to Los Angeles in 1972, Katherine Anderson left the business.
Some of the more popular songs by the Marvelettes include:
“Please Mr. Postman”
“Too Many Fish in the Sea”
“Don’t Mess With Bill”
“The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game”
“When You’re Young and in Love”
“My Baby Must Be a Magician”
“That’s How Heartaches Are Made”
And several other minor hits.
And then there was Martha and the Vandellas, later known as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas who formed in 1957. The group consisted of Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Gloria Williams. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas had a nine-year run on the charts from 1963 to 1972, the group charted over 26 hits and recorded in the styles of doo-wop, R&B, Pop, Blues and rock and roll soul.
I’ve seen Martha Reeves perform several times over the years and cherish fondly a brief encounter with Martha on the Atlantic City Boardwalk outside the Hilton Hotel Casino some years ago. If I remember correctly Gary U.S. Bonds, (Quarter of Three) was one of the opening acts.
Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard first acquainted after a local music manager hired them to be members of a girl group he named The Del-Phils. Ashford and Beard along with then-lead vocalist Gloria Williams, performed at local night clubs and other events. Martha Reeves later joined the group, Martha had been a member of a rival group, The Fascinations.
Following a couple of uncharted singles with the group Reeves separated and returned to a solo career performing under the name Matha LaVaille, in hopes of getting a contract with emerging Detroit label Motown. A Motown staffer Mickey Stevenson noticed Reeves singing at a prominent Detroit club he slipped her a business card and offered her an audition. Reeves showed up at Motown on a wrong date and Stevenson was initially upset, he hired Reeves to look out for clients and other matters in the offices of Motown. Soon Reeves became Stevenson’s secretary and later responsible for helping acts audition for the label. Reeves also worked in an office above the recording studio filing tapes of recorded material.
Motown recording artist Mary Wells failed to make a scheduled recording session due to a short illness. Martha Reeves filled in for Mary Wells recording the song, ”I’ll Have to Let Him Go.” The back-up singers on the song included Rosalind Ashford, Annette Beard and Gloria Williams. Motown’s CEO Berry Gordy was so impressed with the song he offered the group a contract. Gloria Williams dropped out of the group citing being in show business was too rigorous. With Williams out Beard, Ashford and Reeves renamed themselves The Vandellas after Detroit’s Van Dyke Street and Reeves favorite singer, Della Reese.
My two most favorite Martha Reeves and the Vandellas songs are “Come and Get These Memories” and “I’m Ready for Love.” Other Vandellas hits included:
“Dancing in the Street”
“Nowhere to Run”
“You’ve Been in Love Too Long”
“My Baby Loves Me”
“Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone”
“Forget Me Not”
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 becoming just the second all-female group to be inducted and the fifth group in the Motown roster to be inducted.
I love Motown, so here’s a short list of some of my all-time favorites.
Marvin Gaye is an interesting story, born in Washington D. C. in 1939. He sang in his father’s Apostolic Church before moving to Detroit in 1960. Gaye picked up session work as a drummer for Motown records. He married Berry Gordy’s sister Anna in 1961. Marvin recorded many hit records with Philadelphia native Tammi Terrell who passed away in the spring of 1970, Gaye went into seclusion for several months following Terrell’s death.
Problems with drugs and the IRS led to Gaye moving to Europe for three years. Gaye was shot and killed by his father following a quarrel in April of 1984.
Marvin Gaye was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
“Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”
“How Sweet It Is” (To Be Loved By You)
“That’s The Way Love Is”
“Pride and Joy”
“You’re a Wonderful One”
When the Supremes formed in 1959 as the Primettes they consisted of Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard. Florence struggled with drugs and died of a cardiac arrest in 1976. The Supremes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
“Where Did Our Love Go”
“Come See About Me”
“You Can’t Hurry Love”
“Stop In The Name Of Love”
“Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone”
“You Keep Me Hangin’ On”
“I Hear A Symphony”
“Back In My Arms Again”
“I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”
“My World Is Empty Without You”
“Love is Like an Itching in My Heart”
“I’m Livin’ in Shame”
“Nothing But Heartaches”
“Up The Ladder To The Roof”
As of today the Temptations line-up have consisted of more than 50 members since 1960.
The original line-up that most of us would remember included Eddie Kendricks, who died of lung cancer in 1992, age 52. Paul Williams committed suicide in the summer of 1973. Melvin Franklin passed away in1995 at the age of 52. Otis Williams, who was said to be the founding member of the group is the last surviving member of the group and still performs today. Williams married Josephine Rogers in 1961, the couple had a son Otis Lamont who was born that same year. The couple divorced in 1964 and Otis married twice since then. Otis Lamont Williams was a construction worker in Detroit and died in a work-place accident in 1983.
David Ruffin, died of a drug overdose in the summer of 1991 at the age of 50. A black limousine pulled up to the emergency entrance of Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, Ruffin’s dead body was dumped out of the car, and the car pulled out. Ruffin’s body laid in the hospital morgue for several days until the body was identified
“I Can’t Get Next To You”
“I Wish It Would Rain”
“Beauty is Only Skin Deep”
“You’re My Everything”
“I Know I’m Losing You”
“The Way You Do The Things You Do”
“Ain’t To Proud To Beg”
“I Could Never Love Another” (After Loving You)
“Since I Lost My Baby”
“All I Need”
“Ball of Confusion”
“Papa Was A Rolling Stone”
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles
The Miracles only Number-One hit came in 1975 with “Love Machine”
Three years after Smokey left the Miracles.
“I Second That Emotion”
“You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”
“Going To A Go-Go”
“If You Can Want”
“The Tracks Of My Tears”
“Ooo Baby Baby”
“I’ll Try Something New”
(Come Round Here) “I’m The One You Need”
“The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage”
“Tears of A Clown”
Stevie is the winner of 17 Grammy Awards and was inducted into the
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989
“Uptight” (Everything’s Alright)
“Nothing’s Too Good For My Baby”
“Blowin In The Wind”
“A Place In The Sun”
“I Was Made To Love Her”
“For Once In My Life”
“My Cherie Amour”
“Yester-me Yester-you, Yesterday”
“Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours”
“Heaven Help Us All”
“If You Really Love Me”
“You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”
“Living For The City”
“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”
“Ebony and Ivory” with Paul McCartney
“I Just Called To Say I Love You”
“Part Time Lover”
“That’s What Friends Are For” with Dionne & Friends, Elton John, Gladys Knight
Mary was born in Detroit in 1943, was diagnosed with throat cancer in August 1990. Died on July 26, 1992. Wells was the first to have a Top 10 and Number One single for Motown label.
“The One Who Really Loves You”
“You Beat Me To The Punch”
Gladys Knight and the Pips
The name “Pips” came from their manager, Cousin James “Pip” Woods.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996
“Every Beat Of My Heart”
“Letter Full Of Tears”
“I Heard It Through The Grapevine”
“The End Of Our Road”
“If I Were Your Woman”
“Midnight Train To Georgia”
“I’ve Got To Use My Imagination”
“Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me”
“On And On”
“That’s What Friends Are For”
with Dionne Warwick, Elton John and Stevie Wonder
Jr. Walker & The All Stars
Jr. Walker was born Aulty DeWalt II in Blythesville, Arkansas in 1931. I’m not sure if Walker’s entire career was spent with Motown but I do know that the album “Shotgun” was recorded at Motown studios. A few of my favorites by Walker include:
“Do The Boomerang”
‘I’m A Roadrunner”
“How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You”
“Come See About Me”
“What Does It Take” (To Win Your Love)
A few other recording artists to record at Motown in the
early years along with their popular song includes:
The Contours—“Do You Love Me”
Edwin Starr—“Twenty-Five Miles”
Jimmy Ruffin—“What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”
Shorty Long—“Here Comes the Judge”
The Isley Brothers—“This Old Heart of Mine” (Is Weak For You)
I hope I mentioned one of your early Motown favorites. In 1967 songwriting/production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland left the Motown family over pay disputes. In 1972 Berry Gordy moved the Motown operation to Los Angles, many Motown fans saw the move as the beginning of the end for Motown’s glory years.
When the British invasion hit America in 1964-65 many of the so called “lollipop bands” and performers were left behind. Only the strong survived the invasion, groups like the Beach Boys, The Four Seasons, and Motown’s stable of performers survived.
During the 1960’s, Motown achieved spectacular success for a small record company:
79 records in the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100 record chart between 1960 and 1969.
For many decades, Motown was the highest-earning African American business in the United States.
If you were a young teen of the 1960’s, I hope you enjoyed the dance down memory lane. I don’t believe that Americans will ever witness another musical run like the one Motown records gave us.
Some years ago Donna and I visited the former Motown Studios on Grand Avenue in Detroit, the building that houses the Motown studio is and always called “Hitsville,” it’s now a museum. When you walk down into the Snake Pit, the former garage of the house nicknamed the “Snake Pit” because wires and cables covered the floor and you had to go down three or four steps to get into the studio/garage. When you walk into the Snake Pit and see the piano that Stevie Wonder used to play and the drum set once used by Marvin Gaye and realized all the hits the Funk Brothers pumped out of that former garage I definitely had goose bumps throughout my visit.
At the top of the steps leading into the studio was a library room for all the tapes and recordings in these large round canisters is where Martha Reeves worked as a secretary in the file room.
Thanks for reading along,
I hope you enjoyed reading my Motown Revue
as much as I enjoy going down memory lane writing this.