Just a few Berry Gordy songs

Motown founder

Since it’s the 91st birthday of Berry Gordy, I thought I would link to a few of the songs he wrote or co-wrote. According to the ASCAP database, there are over 350 of them.

ABC – Jackson Five, #1 for four weeks RB, #1 for two weeks pop in 1970. As part of The Corporation TM – Gordy, Freddie Perren, Deke Richards, and Alphonzo Mizell – they “were responsible for the writing, production, and arranging” of J5 singles such as I Want You Back, The Love You Save, Mama’s Pearl, and Maybe Tomorrow.

Bingo Long Song (Steal On Home) – Thelma Houston. Written with Ron Miller. It was used for the movie The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings.

Buttered Popcorn – Supremes. A 1961 song written by “Gordy and songwriter Barney Ales, produced by Gordy… It was the group’s second single after signing with Motown Records…” It appears on Meet the Supremes, with Florence Ballard on lead vocal. I LOVE this song.

Check Yourself – Temptations. On the Meet the Temptations album. It was written by Gordy and group members Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Elbridge Bryant, and produced by Gordy.

Now that I can dance

Do You Love Me – the Contours. #1 RB for three weeks, #3 pop in 1962. Berry Gordy wrote it to give to the Temptations. However, “when Gordy set out to locate the group and record the song, they were nowhere to be found… Gordy ran into the Contours in the hallway.” Decades later, on a Berry Gordy tribute album, the Temps did sing it.

Got A Job – Miracles. An Answer song to the Silhouettes’ Get a Job, it was written with Roquel Davis and Smokey Robinson.

I Call It Pretty Music (But The Old People Call It the Blues) – Little Stevie Wonder. Written with Clarence Paul.

Lonely Teardrops – Jackie Wilson. Written by Berry, his sister Gwen Gordy, and Roquel “Billy” Davis, a/k/a Tyran Carlo. #1 RB, #7 pop in 1958. It was ranked “#315 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004.

Money (That’s What I Want) – Barrett Strong. Written with Janie Bradford, it was the first hit record for Motown. #2 RB for six weeks, #23 pop in 1960. Barrett Strong later co-wrote songs with Norman Whitfield for The Temptations and other artists.

Favorites: the Temptations (2014-2017)

Reunion tour, 1982

Richard, Otis, Eddie, Melvin, Glenn, David, Dennis

The fact is that I have mentioned The Temptations at least six dozen times in this blog. And yet, I’m going to do it again, for J. Eric Smith’s favorite songs by favorite artists.

Not many groups of 60 years can claim an original member, Otis Williams! In fact, I was fascinated by how the Elgins/Primes featured Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. Otis Williams & The Siberians/The El Domingoes included Elbridge “Al” Bryant, Richard Street, Melvin Franklin, and of course, Otis.

The early Temps were Al, Eddie, Melvin, Otis, and Paul. But Al left and David Ruffin took over. The first classic lineup was formed. By 1968, David left and Dennis Edwards took his slot. At about the same time, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong started writing more “relevant” songs for the group, produced by Whitfield.

More changes

In 1971, Eddie left to pursue a solo career, replaced briefly by Ricky Owens, then Damon Harris. Paul’s addiction problem was getting the best of him, with Richard Street, one of the Siberians, singing Paul’s parts from off-stage. Then Richard replaced Paul, who died in 1973. Glenn Leonard took over for Damon in 1975. Louis Price replaced Dennis in 1977, but Dennis came back in 1980.

This set the stage for the Reunion tour, where Dennis, Otis, Glenn, Richard, and Melvin were joined by Eddie and David. I saw this performance at the Colonie Coloseum in Albany County in 1982. It was one of the two or three greatest concerts I’ve seen in my life. First, they sang together, then in groups of five. They started with the first classic lineup, Richard in for the late Paul. Then Dennis went in for David, then Glenn supplanted Eddie. They closed singing together.

I saw them about two years later in Heritage Park, a baseball stadium. It was a lesser show, even though it included the Four Tops as well. The lineup was Ali-Ollie Woodson, Ron Tyson, Otis, Richard, and Melvin. The problem in part was that the singers were so far away. The 2020 lineup is Otis, Ron, Terry Weeks, Willie Green, and a new guy, Mario Corbino.

So why The Tempations then in this past decade? I think it’s something else J. Eric Smith wrote about, comfort music. He defined it as “Music that provides consolation or feeling of well-being, typically any with a highly melodic or other pleasing content and associated with childhood or music played by one’s family.” For me, that would be Motown, roughly from 1964 to 1972, when the label moved to Los Angeles. And it was the Temptations who were most consistent, to my ear, throughout the period.

Ten Songs

I could have picked 40 more. All four of their #1 pop hits are here.

Ball of Confusion, #3 for three weeks pop, #2 for 5 weeks soul in 1970.
Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), #1 for two weeks pop, #1 for 3 weeks soul in 1971. Eddie Kendricks’ swan song with the group.
(I Know) I’m Losing You, #8 pop, #1 for two weeks soul in 1966.
No More Water In The Well – a cut from With a Lot O’ Soul album, which is probably my favorite LP of theirs.
My Girl, #1 pop, #1 for five weeks soul in 1965. On the Temptations anthology, there’s a lovely a capella version.

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, #13 pop, #1 for eight weeks soul in 1966. Appeared on The Big Chill soundtrack in 1983.
I Wish It Would Rain, #4 pop, #1 for three weeks soul in 1968.
Papa Was A Rolling Stone, #1 pop, #5 soul in 1972. Dennis Edwards reportedly was getting really irritable in the studio about the length of the intro before he got to sing, which may have been the producer’s intent, to get the snarl in “It was the third of September”
The Way You Do The Things You Do, #11 pop, #1 soul in 1964. Their first real hit, with that Smokey Robinson poetry
I Can’t Get Next To You, #1 for two weeks pop, #1 for 5 weeks soul in 1969. The best use of that five lead vocalist thing that Whitfield stole from Sly Stone


Motown Memories: found list

Too Many Fish in the Sea

MarvelettesHere’s another found list, this one labeled Motown Memories. I like the fact that most of these songs are not the obvious choices.

I’m A Road Runner – Jr. Walker and the All Stars. #4 RB, #20 pop in 1966. I never owned any of his albums. Yet I remember what the cover of the album containing the song looked like. It appears on the various inner sleeves of the Supremes, Temptations, and Four Tops albums I owned.
Girl, Why You Want To Make Me Blue – the Temptations. #11 RB, #26 pop in 1964. The single just before My Girl.
Don’t Look Back – the Temptations. #15 pop, #83 RB in 1965. The B-side of My Baby.
Ask the Lonely – the Four Tops. #9 RB, #24 pop in 1965. this was covered by the Jackson Five.

I’ll Be Doggone – Marvin Gaye. #1 RB, #8 pop in 1965. His first soul #1. His first pop #1 would be I Heard It Through the Grapevine.
Beechwood 4-5789 – the Marvelettes. #7 RB, #17 pop in 1962. I’ve read that people with that real phone number were inconvenienced for months.
Too Many Fish in the Sea – the Marvelettes. #5 RB, #25 pop in 1965. I may have heard the Young Rascals version first.
Tracks of My Tears – the Miracles. #2 RB, #16 pop in 1965. Smokey Robinson!

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me – Diana Ross and the Supremes & the Temptations. #2 for three weeks RB, #2 for two weeks pop in 1969. It was kept out of the #1 spot by Marvin Gaye’s Grapevine.
Walk Away from Love – David Ruffin, #1 RB, #9 pop in 1976. A big hit from the former Temptation.
My Whole World Ended – David Ruffin, #2 RB, #9 pop in 1969.

And finally

Baby I’m for Real – the Originals. #1 for five weeks RB, #14 pop. Produced by Marvin Gaye.

That’s the end of the list, but I figure I’d add the massive hit, already mentioned twice.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye. #1 for seven weeks on both RB and pop. The Miracles version was famously rejected by Motown boss Berry Gordy.

But he allowed the iteration by Gladys Knight and the Pips to be released. It went #1 for six weeks RB, #2 for three weeks pop in 1966. It was kept out of the top pop spot by Daydream Believer by the Monkees, then Hello Goodbye by The Beatles.

I hope you enjoyed someone else’s Motown Memories. I know I did.

Ash Wednesday: What is hell to you?

I opined that the old guy was in his own hell, and Catbird agreed.

I don’t think a whole lot about hell. Well, not since I was growing up with the concept constantly slipped into every third sermon I heard.

One of the things that started my long withdrawal from church in my twenties had a hell of a lot to do with what some said happened after death.

Specifically, it was the notion that everyone who didn’t accept Jesus as their savior was going to some fiery pit in the next life. That would include someone in a remote village in Nepal or person on a tiny island in the Pacific. (This is why we “needed” so many missionaries.)

Still, I think there is a “hell.” My good friend Catbird is reading “The Da Vinci Code,” which I’ve never even started. The motivation was partly because the book is on the PBS “Great American Read” list.

But it was also because some old acquaintance of Catbird’s said it was the work of the devil, which made it more enticing. My friend emailed the acquaintance to ask what event or character had informed his opinion, figuring he had never actually read the story. He replied that Catbird was going to hell and that his words were a warning.

Catbird shared the opinion that both heaven and hell are what one chooses to make of one’s circumstances. A life-altering experience has deeply informed my friend that death is nothing to fear.

I opined that the old guy was in his own hell, and Catbird agreed. And from appearances, it seems “entirely self-inflicted… and possibly addictive.” Catbird heard on the radio about the door to hell being locked from the inside and thought that it applied especially well to him.

So what is hell to you? Is it a physical place after we leave this mortal coil? Is it something else? Does it not exist at all? Maybe you’re hedging your bet.

This Lenten discussion immediately brought to mind a song written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong: You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth, recorded by The Temptations and Undisputed Truth.

Music throwback: No More Tearstained Makeup

No sponge has quite the power
to absorb the constant shower
of the tears pancake and powder could never cover.

Before Motown artists Martha and the Vandellas made it big, they sang background vocals on several of Marvin Gaye’s hits. Martha Reeves worked as a Motown secretary. They experienced major success in the first half of the 1960s with Dancing in the Streets and their signature hit, Heat Wave.

Watchout!, released in 1966, is the fourth studio album and fifth album overall by the trio, and oddly the only one I own (present tense, in vinyl). The group at that point was Martha Reeves on lead vocals, Rosalind Ashford, and Betty Kelly, who replaced Annette Beard in 1963.

You can tell that the label had already decided I’m Ready for Love was going to be the hit, based on the different colored lettering on the record jacket. Jimmy Mack, though, was just about as big, and the one I remember more fondly. Both songs were written by the legendary Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting team, who also created hits for the Supremes and Four Tops, who would leave Motown shortly thereafter.

Still, my favorite song on the album was the non-single No More Tearstained Makeup, written by the incomparable William (Smokey) Robinson. It’s the second verse that really nailed me:

Like a storm my tears have rained
since your shirt was lipstick-stained
and the stains that it contained were not my color.
No sponge has quite the power
to absorb the constant shower
of the tears pancake and powder could never cover.
But today as I look in the mirror
I see things a whole lot clearer.

Elvis Costello is also a fan of the song.

Listen to No More Tearstained Makeup
original here or here
a slower version, not used here
someone’s extended play here
Marvelettes cover (1970) here

Listen to
I’m Ready for Love, #2 soul, #9 pop in 1966 here or here
Jimmy Mack, #1 soul, #10 pop in 1967 here or here