I was looking through the discography of Tamla Motown’s UK releases…because a man loves a list…”Hitsville USA” indeed. There are so many stone dead classics, now part of our musical DNA. The Supremes, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, hit record after hit record. There are other great releases which did not make the same golden impression but were from the same Motown stable of producers, writers and musicians and are of the same high quality. Here are just three which I have been able to select with no great brain strain on my part.
The Marvelettes were early successes for the label. In 1961 the unforgettable “Please Mr Postman” (covered by the Beatles, no less) and the totally forgettable “Twistin’ Postman” were hits. By the mid-60s they had been eclipsed by other female groups but in 1967 they struck an artistic and commercial seam which brought more success. “My Baby Must be A Magician”, written and produced by Smokey Robinson, was the group’s third Top 30 record of the year. It’s a great smooth Smokey song, Melvyn Franklin off of the Temptations booms the introduction then Marv Taplin does something with a guitar that you have to be in the Magic Circle to know how it’s done.
The Internet Oracle, Wikipedia, tells us that the Marvellettes quit in 1970. In the early 80s I saw three ladies of a certain age perform as the group in support of Graham Parker & the Rumour at the Hammersmith Palais in London. Now I have no idea if any of these songstresses were Wanda Rogers, the lead singer on “Baby” or indeed if any of them had ever even been to Inkster, Michigan. The group performed “Postman”, “Don’t Mess With Bill”, “Hunter Gets Captured by the Game”, “When You’re Young & in Love”…all the hits. No-one cared who they were and showed their appreciation of a fine act.
You do not get to see live, in colour, performances of Motown acts very often. This clip of Junior Walker & the All Stars is wild and astonishing. The signature of the “Sound of Young America” was soul with sophistication but Junior, older than the other stars, was straight gutbucket R&B. The shouting sax player hit big with “Shotgun” and the hits just kept on coming. He would Walkerize songs from the Motown catalogue and in the dancefloors of UK mod clubs were jammed when they were played. The records are not as rugged as we see him here. The British audience are open-mouthed as they get to see such a great American soul act.
It’s a treat to see the Ram Jam Club too. I have Cockney friends who never tire of telling of the time they saw Jimi Hendrix play in this Brixton dive. I frequented the same venue in the 80s when it had transformed into the “Fridge”. It was an innovative and popular hang-out but the old Mods would always crack on about the old days being better than the todays. Looking at Junior Walker and the All Stars tearing up the place they may have been right.
“I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” is the 1968 debut 45 for Syreeta Wright. Written by the team of Ashford and Simpson who’s songs were so wonderfully interpreted by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. (On this one they were assisted by Brian Holland, one of the amazing brothers). It was not a hit and Syreeta did not make too many records for a while. What she did do was fall in love and marry Stevie Wonder. They wrote hit songs together at a time when Stevie was distancing himself from Motown and feeling his way towards a more mature sound which was to pretty much take over the world. The marriage did not last but the couple worked together on 2 Syreeta solo LPs which are fine companions to Stevie’s great run of recordings in the early 70s.
I was on to Syreeta from the beginning because this fine single was released under the name Rita Wright and…that was my mother’s name ! What else could I do ?