Archive for the ‘Rock n Roll Music 1962 Part 3’ Category

RAY CHARLES – MOTOWN: MARVIN GAYE – MARY WELLS – THE TEMPTATIONS – THE SUPREMES – THE MIRACLES – LITTLE STEVIE WONDER – JOHN LEE HOOKER

by Robert Seoane

RAY CHARLES

You take country music, you take black music, you got the same goddamn thing exactly.” -Ray Charles

Ray Charles took pop music to the next level in 1962 when he released his landmark, although clumsily titled album, “Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music”. By blending two genres, Charles became the soul equivalent to Elvis. Elvis was the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll because he best knew how to sing blues songs in his own rock ‘n’ roll-tinged C&W style. Ray Charles, on the other hand, knew how to sing C&W tunes in his own style, by incorporating blues, jazz, R&B and big band to his recordings, particularly those in “MSIC&WM”. Nobody had ever heard country songs sung quite this way before.

Ray Charles was one of the first pop musicians to be inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. His song “I Got a Woman”, released in 1955, is considered one of the first rock ‘n’ roll songs ever composed, and was given the stamp of acceptance when Elvis recorded it the following year. Charles’ subsequent musical output ran the gamut in styles, from R&B with one of 1959’s biggest hits, “What’d I Say” to the following year’s gospel-tinged recording of the 1930 classic, “Georgia”. His tastes and musical experimentation covered a wide variety of musical genres.

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Ray Charles Robinson was born in Albany, Georgia, only because his mother Aretha Williams got pregnant with Ray by Bailey Robinson in Greenville, Florida, and the boy’s family needed to banish her temporarily to another town because the two weren’t married. Retha was a teenage orphaned sharecropper who lived with the Robinsons. She returned to Greenville after Ray was born, but Bailey Robinson wasn’t keen on maintaining a family and ultimately abandoned them by leaving Greenville and taking another wife, all but ignoring Retha and his children until his death when Ray was 10 years old.

Retha moved to St. Augustine with 5-year-old Ray and his three-year-old brother George in 1936. Ray‘s childhood was subsequently one of deep poverty and enduring terrible tragedies. At age 5, he helplessly watched his brother drown in a washtub after his mother left him alone for a moment. It would be one of the last images he would ever see before losing his sight to glaucoma, and it became a memory that would haunt him for the rest of his life. By age 7, Ray Charles Robinson was completely blind.

Retha, still trying to cope with the death of her son George, refused to treat Ray any differently despite his handicap. She was tough on him, taught him to fend for himself by giving him chores and allowing him to walk through the neighborhood without help. “I’m not going to be here forever”, she would tell her young son.


Ray Charles, second from left, with his mother Retha

Retha saw Ray’s natural musical talent so she enrolled him into St. Augustine’s School for the Deaf and Blind where he studied piano, saxophone and clarinet as well as classical music. He learned to read music in braille, playing pieces by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. His personal preferences were more mainstream however. The music he grew up with and dearly loved was gospel, R&B, blues, jazz and country.

Becoming self-sufficient was good training for the young blind boy, because his mother’s words proved prophetic. Charles’ mother died when he was 14, effectively leaving Ray alone in the world. He was taken in by a family who had been friends with her and together, they moved to Jacksonville. Ray felt lost without his mother and soon began to dabble with drugs, particularly heroin, to relieve the pain of loss he had to endure daily.

Three years after his mother’s death, seventeen-year-old Ray Charles Robinson decided to go on the road and be a musician. He dropped his last name and called himself Ray Charles to distinguish himself from boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, and played piano for bands in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa. It was during this time that he started to wear sunglasses, a specific type made by designer Billy Stickles, to conceal his eyes onstage.

His reputation soon grew as he started to write arrangements for other artists like Dizzy Gillespie’s “Emanon”, but despite this steady rise of acknowledgement, Charles struggled, sometimes having no money to eat for days. In 1948, he decided to focus on his ambition to have his own band and perform his own music. The only way he could attain that, he figured, was to move to a big city where he’d be more likely to gain larger fame and success. A friend of his named Gossie McKee was planning to move to Seattle, Washington so Ray decided to tag along, where they would form a band together. In Seattle, he met a fifteen-year-old boy who would become one of his closest friends, Quincy Jones.


The McSon Trio; Ray Charles, keyboards, Gossie McKee, guitar and Milton Garrett, bass.

Charles’ band with McKee was named the McSon Trio (“Mc” from McKee and “Son” from Robinson) when they added Milton Garrett on bass. They played the morning shift, from 1AM to 5AM every night at a place called the Rocking Chair. Jack Lauderdale of Down Beat Records heard them there one morning and offered to record them the very next day. The result of that recording session were two songs, “Confession Blues” and “I Love You, I Love You”. Ray Charles’ first vinyl recordings misspelled the band’s name, calling them the Maxin Trio, and had him billed as R.C. Robinson. “Confession Blues” was Charles’ first Top Ten R&B hit, reaching Number Two in the US R&B chart in 1949. It would be the first of six single releases for Down Beat.

Charles was able to land himself his own recording contract in the meantime and for the next four years, the McSon Trio would record for Down Beat and the Ray Charles Trio would record for Swing Time Records. The Ray Charles Trio released 14 singles through Swing Time, and two songs made it into the R&B Top Ten, the blues classic “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand” at Number Five in 1951 and an early rock ‘n’ roller, “Kissa Me Baby” at Number Eight in 1952.

During this period, his career grew steadily. He moved to Los Angeles in 1950 and there, became musical director for blues artist Lowell Fulson, where he caught the ear of a young Turkish man who had emigrated with his father and brother to the United States when he was twelve and was now a record producer and label owner.


Ahmet Ertegun

“I began to discover a little bit about the situation of black people in America and experienced immediate empathy with the victims of such senseless discrimination, because, although Turks were never slaves, they were regarded as enemies within Europe because of their Muslim beliefs.” –Ahmet Ertegun

Ahmet Ertegun’s love for R&B music led him to Ray Charles. Co-owner of Atlantic Records with Jerry Wexler, Ertegun bought Charles’ contract from Swing Time after the label folded for $2500 (about $22,500.00 in 2017 dollars). It was during his years with Atlantic that Charles enjoyed his biggest success in the R&B chart with 17 Top Ten singles from 1952 to 1960, including the rock ‘n’ roll standard “I Got A Woman”. He barely made a dent in the Pop Billboard charts however, except for his biggest success at Atlantic, “What’d I Say” which peaked at Number Six.

By 1960, Ray Charles had become one of the few African-Americans to have successfully crossed over to be accepted by the mainstream white audience. He signed with ABC Records that same year after negotiating one of those most lucrative recording contracts in the music business up until then. The contract stipulated an annual $50,000 ($400,000 in 2017 dollars) advance, higher royalties than what he was receiving at Atlantic, and most importantly of all, complete artistic control, along with eventual ownership of all his recordings. It was at ABC where he would gain his biggest audience, and where he would do the opposite of what most artists do, abandon writing his own compositions and deciding to focus instead on interpreting other songwriters’ work.

It was little wonder why Ray Charles had been nicknamed “The Genius” by Atlantic, when he released his first ground breaking albums “The Genius of Ray Charles” (1959), “The Genius Sings the Blues” (1961) and “The Genius After Hours” (1961). ABC Records continued describing him in the same way with his debut album for the label “The Genius Hits the Road” (1960) and an all-instrumental album released by subsidiary label Impulse!, “Genius + Soul = Jazz”(1961).

His first single with ABC, “Georgia” was written by Stuart Gorell and Hoagy Carmichael in 1930. It had been covered by many artists since, but Ray Charles’s version is the definitive one. He received two Grammys for his classic interpretation of the song, and his version ultimately became Georgia’s state song in 1979. His next big hit, “Hit the Road Jack” (1961), was written by Percy Mayfield. Charles received a Grammy for that song too.

That same year, Charles began touring with a big band, a far cry from the trio ensemble he had been used to performing in all his career. His taste for drugs hadn’t abated though, and he was briefly arrested when police found heroin after a questionable search of his dressing room. Luckily for Charles, the case was dismissed because the police had performed the search without a proper warrant. Although this was a flagrant violation of Charles’ civil rights, it wasn’t a set-up, but a real heroin addiction. Despite the growing monkey on his back, Charles’ muse was as refined as ever, entering a new phase in his musical experimentation. Ray asked his producer Sid Feller to research country standards through the largest country music publishers in the nation. Feller ultimately sent Charles in Los Angeles 250 songs from publishers such as Acuff-Rose who owned the Hank Williams library.

The musical experimentation Charles wanted to do for his fifth studio album for ABC was a controversial decision, receiving negative commentary by critics as well as his peers over the unusual direction a black soul singer wanted to take. But Charles’ artistic control gave the label no other choice other than to trust his instinct, and it’s a good thing they did, for the sake of today’s popular music.

In “Modern Sounds…” Charles took traditional country songs and interpreted them using contemporary, state-of-the-art production. Ray had complete control. He distributed voice-and-piano demos to his jazz arrangers Gerald Wilson and Gil Fuller, and orchestral arranger Marty Paich, and at times even dictated specific parts to all 18 backing musicians individually.

Ray Charles’ philosophy seems second nature today, but during the mid-Twentieth Century, America had been saturated with decades of mostly white-washed, cleaned up entertainment. Mixing C&W with R&B would prove to be a profoundly influential formula that was almost immediately accepted by a large and varied audience, and would mark the beginning of further experimentation by other artists over the ensuing decades.

“[T]he words to country songs are very earthy like the blues, see, very down. They’re not as dressed up, and the people are very honest and say, ‘Look, I miss you, darlin’, so I went out and I got drunk in this bar.’ That’s the way you say it. Where in Tin Pan Alley will say, ‘Oh, I missed you darling, so I went to this restaurant and I sat down and I had dinner for one.’ That’s cleaned up now, you see? But country songs and the blues is like it is.” –Ray Charles

Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music became the most successful album by a black artist at the time, and immensely popular in the Pop, R&B and C&W charts. It shipped 500,000 copies in the first three months after release, earning a gold record and comparable to only Elvis Presley in sales clout. On June 23, 1962, it replaced the West Side Story soundtrack from the Number One position on Billboard’s Top Pop Albums chart. The album was also nominated for a Grammy as Album of the Year, but shortsightedly lost over a comedy album called “The First Family” by comedian Vaughan Meader that poked fun at the Kennedy family. Notwithstanding the lapse in the Grammy Award committee’s vision, “Modern Sounds…” was so successful that only a few months later, in September, 1962, a sequel to the album, titled “Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music Vol. 2” was released to equal critical and popular success. The following are the highlights from both albums.

MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY & WESTERN MUSIC – RAY CHARLES

BYE BYE LOVE – THE RAY CHARLES

The opening track was a country-inflected rock ‘n’ roll tune that was made first popular by the Everly Brothers in 1957. Charles turns it into a big band jazz piece with contemporary flourishes rooted in R&B along with Charles’ brilliant piano playing, encased in a Forties big-band arrangement.

I CAN’T STOP LOVING YOU – RAY CHARLES

The first single off the “Modern Sounds…” album was a popular country tune first written by C&W singer/songwriter Don Gibson in 1957. It was released as a b-side the following year along with a tune called “Oh, Lonesome Me”, also recorded by Charles for release in the sequel to this album, Gibson’s version of “I Can’t Stop Loving You” got just as much airplay as “Oh, Lonesome Me” when first released, so much so that the single became a double-A sided hit.

Four years later, Ray Charles recorded it and made it all his own. It reached the Number One spot in Billboard’s Pop, R&B and Country chart, as well as topping the charts in the UK as well. Charles’ version is a heartfelt performance and feels more contemporary than its predecessor, despite the traditional vocals. Gone is Gibson’s twangy country guitar, replaced by Charles’ piano. After so many hits in the Fifties, Ray Charles managed to top himself once again with this beautiful recording. In 1972, Charles performed it on the Dick Cavett Show and dedicated to his girlfriend, existent or not, along with his background singers, The Raelettes.

YOU DON’T KNOW ME – RAY CHARLES

The second track of the album was also the second song released as a single. It was written by Cindy Walker particularly for singer Eddy Arnold as gratitude for inspiring her to write the song in the first place. Singer Jerry Vale however, got hold of it first and released his own version two months before Arnold’s in 1956. Vale’s version charted higher than Arnold’s too, making it to Number 14 on Billboard’s Pop chart. Arnold’s version didn’t make it into the Pop chart, but did manage to reach Number Ten on Billboard’s C&W chart.

As the story goes, Eddy Arnold suggested the title “You Don’t Know Me” to Walker, explaining the concept behind it and suggesting she think about it before attempting to write it. “The song just started singing. It sort of wrote itself…”, Walker said.

The song is inherently a very pretty one, but again, Ray Charles’ sings the definitive version. His version of “You Don’t Know Me” reached Number Two on Billboard’s Pop chart in 1962.

I LOVE YOU SO MUCH IT HURTS – RAY CHARLES

Ray Charles’ version of Floyd Tillman’s 1948 “I Love You So Much It Hurts” is beautifully interpreted with a traditional lush orchestration backing Ray Charles’ heartfelt, soulful baritone. His vocal delivery makes you feel the sweet pain of his love, encompassed in lazy violins and angelic background vocals.

The most popular, original version of this song was recorded in 1949 by Jimmy Wakely. His interpretation is indeed rooted in traditional C&W folk. It’s a mono recording with only guitar and a small instrumental backing. It doesn’t stand a chance when comparing it to Ray Charles’ version.

YOU WIN AGAIN – RAY CHARLES

Charles chose two Hank Williams songs to record for “Modern Sounds Vol 1”. You can hear the country longing in the melody as Ray sings “You Win Again”, but Charles’ vocal inflection is so uniquely his, drawn out and from the heart, that he does indeed manage to beautifully display the timelessness of the melody.

The song, written in 1952, is about a man who lost the love of his life. Hank Williams recorded it the day after his divorce was final with Audrey Sheppard. Williams originally titled his composition “I Lose Again”, but at the insistence of his producer Fred Rose, he reversed it.

HEY, GOOD LOOKIN’ – RAY CHARLES

As in the opening track, Charles ends on a high and returns to his big band style on the closing track of the album, allowing himself to truly dance all over the keys in an extended piano solo that showcases his amazing piano-playing prowess, ending the album with the listener wanting more.

Written in 1951, “Hey, Good Lookin’” is probably one of Williams’ best known songs. Besides Charles’ recording, the song has been ubiquitous since its release in everything from variety shows to TV commercials. Williams wrote it in twenty minutes during a plane ride, intending to give it to a friend of his, Jimmy Dickens, who needed a hit. But after writing it, he recorded it for himself and telling Dickens jokingly that “this song’s too good for you.”

 

MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY & WESTERN MUSIC VOL. 2 – RAY CHARLES

YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE – RAY CHARLES

The first track on the “Modern Sounds…” sequel album, “Vol. 2”, was also the first single off it, released in the Fall of 1962. His version sounds nothing like the original, more so than any of the other tracks in the first album. It’s rooted in a blend of blues, big band and R&B, with a staccato beat that changes the entire sound of the tune. It’s unmistakable Ray Charles, and as the opening track, promises more surprising experimentation with other traditional songs.

“You Are My Sunshine” is also one of the oldest songs among Charles’ selections, written in 1939 by Jimmie Davis and Charles Mitchell. It also became Louisiana’s state song by virtue of the fact that co-writer Davis was once governor of that state. Originally a country song, it’s been played and recorded so many times by so many other artists that it‘s incorporated practically every music style there is, from Bing Crosby’s crooned version to Charles’ soul jazz to Lawrence Welk’s lush orchestration and many others in between. We’re still waiting for the hip-hop version.

OH, LONESOME ME – RAY CHARLES

Charles returns to big band jazz on “Oh, Lonesome Me” with a wailing sax solo. The genre suits the song well, originally written by Don Gibson, who also wrote “I Can’t Stop Loving You.”

The country version also contains the bouncy, happy feeling of Charles’ rendition, despite the fact that the lyrics are about a man whose woman walked out on him. Charles replaced the country guitar with a brass arrangement.

TAKE THESE CHAINS FROM MY HEART – RAY CHARLES

“Take These Chains from My Heart” opened side two of “Vol. 2” and was also the second single off this album to enter the Billboard charts. It made it Number Three C&W, Number Seven R&B and Number Eight Pop in 1963.

It was originally written by Fred Rose and Hy Heath for Hank Williams as one of his final recordings in 1952. It was a posthumous Number One country hit for Williams in 1953 after he died suddenly on New Year’s Day.

YOUR CHEATIN’ HEART – RAY CHARLES

Ray Charles released “Your Cheatin’ Heart” as a single after “You Are My Sunshine” but it only made it into the Top Ten in the C&W chart at Number Seven, while reaching Number 29 Pop and Number 23 R&B.

“Your Cheatin’ Heart” was also taken from the Hank Williams songbook, and is considered a country standard. The fact that Ray Charles recorded this song with an R&B feel bridges the two genres together like no other song can. Williams wrote this song about his own wife Audrey during a turbulent time in their relationship. The single was released on January 1, 1953, the day Williams died at age 29 from a mixture of sedatives and alcohol. The song became an instant nationwide hit.

“Modern Sounds in Country & Western Music, Vols. 1 & 2” was Ray Charles’ pinnacle, both creatively and commercially. After this album, he only scored two more singles during his career in the Billboard Pop Top Ten with “Busted” (#4) in 1964 and “It’s Crying Time” (#6) in 1966. His next two albums, “Ingredients In A Recipe For Soul” (#2, 1963) and “Sweet & Sour Tears” (#9, 1964) were the last two albums of his to make it to the Top Ten LP chart until forty years later in 2004 with Ray Charles’ final studio album, “Genius Loves Company”. During the interim, Charles battled and successfully conquered his drug addiction, and enjoyed a long career recording and performing around the world.

One of Ray’s most notable recordings occurred in 1986 with Billy Joel. Joel and Charles shared lead piano and vocals on “Baby Grand”, one of the songs from Joel’s album “The Bridge”. Ray Charles contacted Billy Joel soon after Joel’s daughter’s birth, Alexa Ray, to express his appreciation for naming her after him. On the phone, Charles suggested they do a song together. The song, written overnight by Billy Joel, perfectly captures the music Ray Charles has lovingly interpreted for the world, bluesy and soulful, and all about an instrument they both shared, the piano.

“Ray Charles was my hero when I was growing up. As big of a pianist or as big of a star I could ever become, I could never be Ray Charles.” –Billy Joel

Ray Charles Robinson died on June 10th of that year at age 73 and left behind a musical legacy that shaped popular music to this day.

 

MOTOWN

In 1962, the Motown family began to coalesce. Motown’s founder Berry Gordy made William “Smokey” Robinson Vice-President of Motown Records. Together, they groomed a growing stable of musical artists, writing songs and overseeing the production of all their recordings. Smokey not only wrote for other artists; he also led his own band, the Miracles, who had already scored a Number One R&B hit (Number Two Pop), Motown’s first, in 1960 with “Shop Around”.

As talented as they were, the two were spreading themselves thin. Gordy knew they needed more songs, so he sought out young, up and coming talent within their own walls to assist in writing pop hits. It wasn’t a difficult task to find them, primarily because African-American talent had heard what was going on in Detroit, so they flocked to the Motown headquarters building, dubbed “Hitsville U.S.A.”, seeking fame and fortune. In fact on most days, these musicians and artists would spend their days on Hitsville USA’s front lawn, tossing a football or otherwise chatting on the stair steps as they wait for an opportunity to record even a background vocal.

 

HOLLAND-DOZIER-HOLLAND


From left, Lamont Dozier, Eddie and Brian Holland

“Yes, it was a job, but we loved the job. We really did sit there and work all day at coming up with this song, that melody.” –Brian Holland (rockhall.com)

Eddie Holland had been working with Berry since the Motown label was founded in 1959. Groomed to be a recording artist, Holland released several singles between 1959 and 1964, with a song called “Jamie” being the only single of his to break the Billboard’s Top Thirty. Because he suffered from stage fright however, performing live proved not to be for him.

Eddie’s brother Brian was brought on board shortly thereafter as a staff songwriter. He had successfully co-penned the Marvelettes’ chart-topping “Please Mr. Postman” in 1961, giving him the clout and respectability he needed to get Gordy’s attention.

Brian also tried performing, joining Motown groups called the Fidalatones, then the Satintones and finally as part of a background vocal quartet called the Rayber Voices from 1960 to 1962 before calling his singing career quits. Brian, like his brother, also felt he belonged behind the scenes as a songwriter and began collaborating with fellow staff songwriter, Lamont Dozier, who had been a recording artist for Berry’s sister, Anna Gordy’s “Anna” label before joining Motown.

In 1962, brother Eddie gravitated towards Brian and Lamont Dozier and the three began to write songs together. Gordy watched their talent develop and the following year, asked them to write for the struggling Supremes. The result was “Where Did Our Love Go”, the first huge hit for HDH and the famed girl group. Soon, Gordy had HDH write for other Motown artists. Ultimately, the trio were responsible for writing many of Motown’s biggest hits, such as “Heatwave”, “Can I Get A Witness”, “Baby, I Need Your Loving”, “Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, “Stop! In The Name Of Love”, “I Can’t Help Myself”, “It’s the Same Old Song”, “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, “You Keep Me Hanging On”, “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”… virtually every Motown classic smash hit of the Sixties. Besides the Supremes, their songs were recorded by Motown’s biggest stars including Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and the Temptations. The team, known professionally as Holland-Dozier-Holland, were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

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Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson realized that it wasn’t enough to release records to radio and hope they catch the pop ear. In 1962, they decided to put together their first tour outside the usual Detroit appearances, so they booked gigs throughout the Eastern and Southern parts of the United States and dubbed the tour “the Motortown Revue”. One evening’s performance of the revue typically included the Miracles, Martha & the Vandellas, The Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Little Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, the Contours and the Marvelletes. Most of them hadn’t racked up any chart hits yet but the tour was designed to make them known to a broader market.

 

MARVIN GAYE

Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. would finally come to his own in 1962, despite the fact that he was being called “the least likely hit maker” within his own label, particularly because the kind of music Marvin wanted to record were old standards that were totally out of touch with the burgeoning Motown sound.

THE SOULFUL MOODS OF MARVIN GAYE – MARVIN GAYE’S DEBUT LP

Gaye had already released his debut album in the Summer of 1961, but “The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye” didn’t get much attention. Gordy and Gaye had clashed in terms of the musical direction of the record. Gordy wanted him to sing catchy pop songs for the teen radio listening audience, but Gaye saw himself more as a crooner a la Nat “King” Cole, Ray Charles or Frank Sinatra. In the end, Gordy relented and allowed Gaye to record songs that were made popular by the likes of Sinatra, and some written by Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. Gaye added nothing new to his interpretations of these old classics, and the production was pretty uninspired throughout the whole album. “Soulful Moods…” was mostly made up of slow ballads, with maybe two more uptempo pop songs as a compromise to Gordy. In the end, Gordy was proven right, as the album never entered the Billboard Pop Album chart.

LET YOUR CONSCIENCE BE YOUR GUIDE – MARVIN GAYE

Gaye’s first single from the album, ”Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide” was written by Gordy specifically for Marvin, but it also failed to become a hit. It was a slow, well-sung, bluesy number that appealed to Gaye but apparently, not anyone else. The only notoriety the record can claim is that it was Marvin’s first record with his last name spelled the way he would always be known. Just before the single was to be released, Marvin added an ‘e’ to his surname, reasoning that Sam Cooke had done the same thing, not only because he was being teased as to the homosexual association of his “Gay” surname, but also because he wanted to distance himself as much as possible from his domineering, abusive father.

BEECHWOOD 4-5789 – THE MARVELETTES

As 1962 dawned, Gaye busied himself recording and performing as well as writing songs for other Motown artists, many times joining them as a session musician, playing drums for the Miracles, Little Stevie Wonder and the Marvelettes’ performances and recordings. Gaye wrote “Beechwood 4-5789” with William “Mickey” Stevenson and Berry Gordy’s brother George for the Marvelettes, which managed to climb to Number 17 in Billboard’s Pop chart and Number Seven R&B in the Autumn of 1962.

Gaye continued to record singles as a solo artist, but bristled at the idea of having to go to grooming class at John Roberts Powers School for Social Grace in Detroit as Berry had instructed him to do. He later regretted the decision to not attend and realized he needed to start trying it their way. He began to take advice from those in the label who saw him perform, particularly changing his habit of closing his eyes when he sang because it appeared to the audience that he was sleeping. Slowly but surely, his stubbornness gave way and he came around to recording the type of music Gordy felt would make him a success.

The first two singles Gaye released in 1962, “Sandman” and “Soldier’s Plea”, also failed to enter the Pop or R&B chart. It took his fourth single release “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”, to finally introduce Marvin Gaye into the charts as a solo artist. “…Fellow” was a Top Ten Billboard R&B hit, reaching Number Eight. It also managed to break the Pop Hot 100 by climbing up to Number 46 in the Summer of 1962.

STUBBORN KIND OF FELLOW – MARVIN GAYE

Co-written by Gaye, George Gordy and Stevenson, the title of his breakthrough hit was quite appropriate in describing Gaye’s demeanor, but the song itself was an R&B pop song, not an old creaky standard, and a good one at that. Gaye had realized finally that if he wanted to be a successful crossover artist, he would have to start singing R&B. Marvin had to force himself to learn to accept advice from those in the know, particularly Berry Gordy.

“Berry heard me playing (“Stubborn Kind of Fellow”) …on the piano. He came over and he said something to the effect of, ‘I like that melody but can you do something else with it.’ That was my first power encounter with him. I remember he wanted me to change some chords. I had a brief argument with him as to why I thought it should remain the way I wrote it. In any event, I changed things his way.” – Marvin Gaye

Martha Reeves of the Vandellas sang background in “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” as Gaye delivered the song with a strong growl, desperately trying to separate himself from the crooning talents he had displayed on his failed debut album. His heartfelt “say, yeah, yeah, yeah” open and hook sets the mood for a strong blues pop number. Released on July 23, 1962, Gaye was pleased to see that he had finally cracked the R&B Top Ten chart at Number Eight, but was disappointed that it didn’t make it into the Pop Top Forty, climbing only as high as Number 46. Encouraged by the acceptance he was receiving singing R&B, his next single would chart even higher for him.

HITCH HIKE – MARVIN GAYE

Co-written with Stevenson and Clarence Paul, “Hitch Hike” would take Marvin Gaye into the Pop Top Forty, reaching Number 30. The record also climbed to just short of the Top Ten R&B at Number 12. The dynamic song inspired a dance that Gaye would showcase when performing the song on TV shows of the day such as American Bandstand and the T.A.M.I. Show, where he would extend his thumb in a hitchhiking motion as he danced. Again, Reeves and her Vandellas provided the background vocals.

Gaye went on tour with the rest of the Motown artists in their first Motortown Revue in October of 1962, where he would showcase his two hit singles as part of his repertoire. The tour covered the “chitlin’ circuit” a swath down the Eastern and Southern coast of the United States where it was acceptable for “negro” musicians to play in racially segregated areas. He was also busy recording his second album, titled after his first hit single, “That Stubborn Kind of Fellow”. The album included the title song as well as his other singles “Hitch Hike” and “Soldier’s Plea”. All the other tracks were either co-written by Gaye or his songwriting partner Mickey Stevenson.

Gaye had ultimately abandoned his idea of jazz standards. It was the right move if he wanted to be famous. The second track on Side One of his second album would be his next single, to be released in early 1963. It was called “Pride and Joy” and it would be his first record to enter Billboard’s Pop Top Ten. Despite his stubborn personality, Gaye ultimately listened, and as a result, went from being considered Motown’s “least likely hit-maker” to one of the labels most legendary artists who set a new standard in 1971 when he released his landmark album “What’s Going On”. But throughout the Sixties, he would steadily climb in popularity, becoming one of Motown’s most profitable and famous artists.

 

MARY WELLS

Motown was beginning to chart consistently in 1962. Besides Gaye’s two solo hits and the Marvelettes’ “Beechwood 4-5789” both of which made it into the Top Forty, Motown Vice-President and Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson wrote “The One Who Really Loves You” for Mary Wells. Reminiscent of another 1962 hit “The Loco-Motion” by Carole King, the record made it to Number Eight Billboard Pop and Number Two R&B.

Soon after, Robinson wrote “You Beat Me To the Punch” for Wells and that did similarly in the Pop chart, climbing to Number Nine. It did however, manage to make it to the top in the R&B chart, giving Wells her first Number One R&B single. It also gave Motown its first Grammy nomination for Wells’ song in the Best Rhythm & Blues Recording category.

Mary Wells’ third single, also written by Robinson, was “Two Lovers”, a rather risqué song for 1962 with lyrics suggesting polygamy until the song reveals in the end that her two lovers are the same person.

“Darling, Well, don’tcha know that I can tell whenever I look at you, that you think that I’m untrue ’cause I said that I love two, but I really, really do ’cause you’re a split personality and in reality, both of them are you.” “Two Lovers” – Mary Wells

It became her most successful single to date, reaching Number Seven Pop and, like her previous single, also climbed to Number One R&B. Having two consecutive R&B Number One singles and three Pop Top Tens, along with the Grammy nomination, gave Wells clout within the label, becoming the first female solo singer to have accomplished such a feat.

Motown had their first A-list pop star in Mary Wells. “Two Lovers” sold over a million copies and earned a Gold record. Her second album, “The One Who Really Loves You” was released in 1962 and also entered Billboard Top Ten Album chart, reaching Number Eight. As a result of this success, Wells was the headlining artist in Motown’s Motortown Revue.

Although she was on top of the world at this point, Wells was still two years away from recording the biggest single of her career, “My Guy”.

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