The Marvelettes

TrackAlbum / Single
I Want A GuyPlease Mr. Postman
Please Mr. PostmanPlease Mr. Postman
Beechwood 4-5789Playboy
Someday, SomewayPlayboy
Too Many Fish In The SeaTamla 54015
I'll Keep Holding OnTamla 54116
Maybe I Dried My Tears...The Marvelettes Forever CD
The Hunter Gets Captured By The GameThe Marvelettes
Destination AnywhereSophisticated Soul
Rainy MourningIn Full Bloom

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm

 

Contributor: Merric Davidson

In 1961, the two big hit making groups out of Motown were the Miracles who scored the label’s first R&B No.1 with Shop Around and the Marvelettes who hit the #1 slot in the US pop charts with Please Mr. Postman, giving them their place in rock history. I’m passionate about both those records; neither made the charts in the UK of course which made them all the more attractive and desirable to R&B fans. In fact, it would be another couple of years before the fab four covered the Marvelettes and the Miracles on their second album but this didn’t necessarily lead to much more awareness for the original groups. It was going to be a good few years before the first Motown act charted in the UK. Incredible but true!

During that time those of us with transistor radios were checking out every American release from these two great groups, albeit with the usual airwave interference and parental displeasure! For anyone interested in investigating this further there are details of all British Motown singles released here on London, Fontana, Oriole, Stateside up to 1965 (and the first UK Tamla Motown label release) at the superb Motown Junkies website. Blessed with two contrasting lead vocalists in Gladys Horton and Wanda Young throughout much of their career, the Marvelettes recorded many of the great Motown songs as this playlist demonstrates – and there’s a useful timeline here.

Also, if you investigate The Marvelettes Forever/Forever More CD sets of all the group’s albums you’ll find informative liner notes from Gary Graff (Vol.1) and Stu Hackel (Vol.2) which dig down a bit deeper: how the group were seen as ‘outsiders’; how they achieved instant success and how it came too soon; how a young William Robinson wrote some of his finest songs for the voices of Gladys and Wanda; how they lost out in the ‘fame game’ to the Supremes; how later they shifted their sound from R&B to soul; how some of their best material ended up in the vaults (these rarities, including the one I’ve picked here, Maybe I Dried My Tears (For The Last Time), can be found on both volumes).

Their first LP, Please Mr. Postman, is just fabulous, really raw, early R&B, Chantels-influenced, a marriage of different styles, American Graffiti-type soundtrack, and I Want A Guy (preferred to the Supremes version) and Please Mr. Postman (stone cold classic) are representing it on Toppermost. Then there’s the exquisite So Long Baby, as well as I Know How It Feels with Gladys’ vocal chords stretched to the max in almighty falsetto. There is no ‘Motown Sound’ here and it’s fresh and vital and amazing. While some of the tracks sound like they’ve come straight from the drawing board others such as their cover of the Miracles’ Way Over There (a precursor to Dick and DeeDee’s magnificent The Mountain’s High) arrive more fully formed. Happy Days and You Don’t Want Me No More, both written by Berry Gordy, come straight from the Del Shannon songbook. Gordy has a credit on seven of the songs on this first album.

The third LP, Playboy, is an out-and-out winner featuring a couple of hit singles in the title track and Beechwood 4-5789. It also has that single’s B-side, Someday, Someway, which was a sizeable R&B hit in its own right, and another B-side, Forever, which almost made it on to this topper-ten.

Some time in 1964 (or maybe 65) I chanced upon three of their Stateside UK singles in a junk shop in Boscombe. I would stop by there regularly but had only found awful UK hit singles before so this was a major haul: He’s A Good Guy (Yes He Is); You’re My Remedy – “There’s nothing I can take, when my head starts to ache … Don’t call a doctor, a nurse is worse”; and Too Many Fish In The Sea. Three terrific consecutive mid-period Marvelettes singles and although I know them back to front and over, under, sideways, down, only one is going to make it into this playlist (see PS below) – the competition is so goddam fierce!

1965 was a good year for the Marvelettes; not in terms of big hits necessarily although they did score a #7 with Don’t Mess With Bill towards the end of the year. In May, they released I’ll Keep Holding On (arguably their greatest recording) with Wanda Young finally taking a lead vocal on an A-side:

I know you’re braggin’ to your friends that you can’t be caught
Baby, you don’t know, so it’s time that you were taught
So love, you’d better plan to make your final stand

What an outstanding song it is; tight as a drawstring, building effortlessly, the singers and the band knowing they were delivering a prime Motown classic. The next single, Danger! Heartbreak Dead Ahead, couldn’t hope to better it, good as it is.

The Marvelettes (The Pink Album) (1967) has their cover of Van McCoy’s When You’re Young And In Love, recorded initially by Ruby and the Romantics. It was, disgracefully, the Marvelettes only UK hit peaking at #13 in 1967, one of their last recordings to feature Gladys Horton although Wanda Young is the main vocalist. Keep Off, No Trespassing is pretty good, on an album once again full of covers (Barefootin’, Message To Michael, He Was Really Saying Something). The finest track here though is Smokey Robinson’s The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.

We are now inexorably moving towards the ‘sophisticated’ sound of the Supremes with the next album, Sophisticated Soul (1968). Gladys Horton has quit the group, Ann Bogan has replaced her, and Wanda is out front on vocals. Skipping the first track, Smokey Robinson’s My Baby Must Be A Magician, which I fear is all a bit forced, the fickle finger of fate settles on track two, Destination: Anywhere, a work of crystalline genius right from the start, and undoubtedly the best Marvelettes track of the later years. Take a bow Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. One of the top Motown songs it was helped along enormously to “standard” status by the scene on the top of a bus in The Commitments many years later with the blue eyed soul of the Commitmentettes!

There are five Smokey songs on Sophisticated Soul – not prime Smokey (You’re The One is recognisable Smokey) – and it includes What’s Easy For Two Is So Hard For One which was recorded by the wonderful Mary Wells in 1963. It sits nicely on this album but although this may have been seen as a step forward for the girls, it wasn’t perhaps the way most of their fans wanted them to go.

There were two further albums but in reality it was all over. In Full Bloom was released in 1969 from which I’ve chosen a B-side Rainy Mourning which is a little like ‘early Marvelettes’ meets ‘sophisticated soul’ – it has an understated quality and a skilful performance from Wanda Young in the lead vocal which gives it an irresistible appeal. Play it a few times. Then there was The Return Of The Marvelettes (1970), a misnomer if ever there was one as it’s a vehicle for Wanda produced by Smokey with hardly a Marvelette in sight! An odd selection of well-known songs, including the producer’s beautiful Marionette originally recorded by Kim Weston, but the album as a whole is a bit of a patchwork quilt.

Postscript: This was the toughest of toppermosts. I’d been deliberating for far too long to try to reach agreement with myself on a set of ten favourite songs by the Marvelettes and I’m finally going with the above. Tried all sorts of computations to reach the perfect ten, hoping to balance the sensational singles with excellent album tracks and if I’d been going for twenty that would have been the end of it. At the close – having listened to a lengthy playlist for weeks – maybe I got there.

Finally, I was really tempted to include this 1962 A-side in the ten but … then I came across this on Motown Junkies and I couldn’t compete with this epic review of Strange I Know so here it is in all its glory,
“the best record the Marvelettes ever made”.

 

Gladys Horton (1945-2011)

Georgeanna Tillman (1943-1980)

Full list of Marvelettes songs with lyrics

The Marvelettes biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #388

2 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Dec 1, 2014

    Excellent list and it must have been fun reducing 20 to 10. I was about to do a “What? No …” on Don’t You Mess With Bill, but fortunately it was slipped in on video. I like Twistin’ Postman … partly because it was a forced follow-up, but it was also a good one. And I like the second album, The Marvelettes Sing … all rushed covers of recent big hits circa 1962. Because they’re all covers, I wouldn’t single one out, but the album is a fun straight-through listen. It’s best when they’re covering something way off their style, like Good Luck Charm and Dream Baby.

  2. Colin Duncan
    Dec 15, 2014

    Really enjoyed the article and was too young for that early 60s period, which I feel I missed out on. Great descriptions related to checking out new releases on the transistor radios; that slight friction with parents listening to different music, which I experienced with the Rolling Stones; that find in the junk shop in Boscombe. Can there be a better named place in England than Boscombe? ‘When You’re Young And In Love’ was my introduction to the Marvelettes and everywhere I went I seemed to hear it in my hometown. Peter Viney once discussed how certain songs can be bigger in local areas, and I feel this was a big hit in Dundee. Still love it to this day, it touches a nerve and I play the greatest hits regularly. So I think the songs I know on the list are great, but there are five songs on the list missing on my greatest hits so I’ve never heard them. Thanks for the history of the Marvelettes and I’ll need to do some searching. It’s what Toppermost does well. Great article and clips, Merric. Thanks.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓