From the Land of Band Box Records

Passing Through Hitsville….

October 17, 2018

Berry Turns Back the Clock

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Gordy Berry, Jr.

So many great musicians have passed through the ranks of the Motown Family of labels since it was first launched with the signing of a group called “The Matadors” who would quickly change their name to “The Miracles”.

After Motown had secured a firm foothold as “The Sound of Young America”, the label’s founder often dipped back into the time capsule bringing artists, who for the most part, were well beyond their glory days.  But more of that to follow…. (below)

The legendary Gordy Berry, Jr., located property in Detroit, Michigan in 1959 which would become to be known as “Hitsville U.S.A. an entirely appropriate moniker.  “Hitsville” was not a single dwelling.  Before long seven houses in the immediate area were secured by Berry for his up and coming operation.

Starting off slowly, accompanied by Miracles’ lead vocalist and composer extraordinaire – as VP – by 1966 the company would boast 450 employees!

Everyone can recite many of the names of the fabulous talent who passed through and cemented the Motown legend for all time:

The Motown “A” Team

Jackie & Marv

In the beginning at Motown, Berry Gordy, Jr., was up for just about anything – Many of his earliest efforts were pure rhythm and blues acts always drawing on the artistic talent in the Detroit area.  Gordy had more or less got his start penning “Reet Petite” along with his sister for Jackie Wilson in 1957, followed by a handful of compositions for Wilson including his big “Lonely Teardrops”.

Jackie & Marv

Berry provided many obscure groups and artists with an opportunity when he founded his new recording company – first on Tamla Records his first Motown stable label.  Marv Johnson released the first Tamla single “Come to Me” b/w “Whisper” in January of 1959.  In alliance with Berry Gordy – several of Marv’s songs would be released on United Artists including his first big hit “You’ve Got What It Takes” followed by “I Love the Way You Love”, “It Ain’t Gonna Be That Way”, “You’ve Got to Move Two Mountains”, and “Merry-Go-Round” all charting hits and all co-compositions of Berry Gordy – all occurring parallel to Gordy’s efforts to move his Tamla label ahead.

Marv’s Berry’s


His first taste of national chart success came when Barrett Strong recorded another Berry co-composition “Money” which was initially released on Berry’s “Anna” label – and which would hit the charts in the summer of 1959.  Then, in the Fall of 1960, everything would change with the release of “Shop Around” by Gordy’s first premier Motown act – The Miracles.  Gordy teamed up with lead vocalist and Motown VP William “Smokey” Robinson to pen that song.

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Barrett Strong

William and Mary

In May of 1959, Gordy started up his Motown label kicking that effort off with “Bad Girl”/”I Love Your Baby” two more Robinson/Gordy songs.  The Satintones were Gordy’s first Motown label group and received much of his attention releasing six singles – none charting – and so in 1961, the group disbanded.

Mary Wells was Motown’s featured female vocalist but all of her initial releases gained little national recognition.  The Supremes, who had been working in Motown’s offices, came on board in the Spring of 1962 with “Your Heart Belongs To Me” a “Smokey Robinson track.

Then Motown finally broke through in the Summer of 1962 with Mary Well’s “The One Who Really Loves You” followed in short order by “You Beat Me To The Punch”- both Smokey Robinson penned songs. They charted at numbers 8 and 9 respectively.   Motown put it’s weight behind Wells – She scored 10 national hits up to her 1964 departure for 20th Century Records where she enjoyed only marginal chart success.

Holland – Dozier – Holland Find the Formula

Then the “formula” fell into place when the young Supremes released “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” was released.  The song reached a respectable number 23 in late 1963 – but the magic had been created.  The writers of this song would become one of the most formidable song writing teams for all-time – brothers Brian and Eddie Holland along with Lamont Dozier.

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All the Hits – Nothing But the Hits

The Supremes would then roll into one of the most successful chart runs ever by anyone – scoring five number one singles in quick succession – with twelve number one’s between 1963 and 1969 (and none after that).

12 Big Ones For the Supremes

And so the Motown hit machine was born – Within another few months all the classic Motown family artists would be on board – and there was nowhere to go but up!

Turning Back the Clock at Motown

In time, Gordy would record a diverse range of recordings: Gospel – Comedy – Documentary – all for the most part not successful in terms of record sales.  Some noted musicians passed through the Motown doors over the years.

Rev. Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Jr., made an appearance on the Gordy Record Label recording one single in 1963.  Berry Gordy released three memorial LP’s two in 1963 and one later on in the Summer of 1968 after Dr. King’s assassination.

Marv Johnson

(See history above)

Leslie Uggams

Leslie Uggams was a Broadway actress and film actress of some notoriety who brought little recording success with her to her brief stint at Motown.  She recorded for Columbia from 1959 into 1964 then moved on to Atlantic Records – Her only chart appearance was 1959’s “One More Sunrise (Morgen)” charted for a single week at number 98. Leslie released one single for Motown in 1976 and was gone – back to the stage and screen.

Billy Eckstine

By the time Billy Eckstine arrived at Motown he was far past his days of recording success.  Eckstine and his orchestra first hit the pop charts in 1945 right after World War II.  He logged an impressive run of 18 hit recordings from 1945 with his last coming in 1952.  His biggest hit was “My Foolish Heart” which reached number six in 1950.

Eckstine arrived at Motown in May of 1965 recording seven singles and three long plays with his final recordings coming in late 1968.

Tony Martin

Another artist from the distance past – Tony Martin’s heyday was from 1940 until 1957 when he placed 33 songs on the pop charts with 13 entering the Top 10.  Martin came to Motown in late 1964 and recorded three singles for Berry’s label.  I have often wondered whether or not Martin was accompanied by the “Funk Brothers”.  Probably not…

Barbara McNair

The lovely Barbara McNair was – much like Leslie Uggams – primarily a theater and film actress.  She did record however for many labels but never once entered the pop charts.  He recording career commenced in 1957 and continued into the 1970’s.  She arrived at Motown in the Winter of 1965 and recorded five singles up through 1968 and two long plays her last coming in 1969.

Connie Haines

Connie came out of the Big Band Era – a vocalist with Tommy Dorsey and also the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra.  She scored three moderate hits in 1948 and 1949.  She was the voice on more than 200 big band recordings and in 1966 was a surprise artist for the Motown label releasing one single.  She passed away in 2998 at the age of 87.

Christine Schumacher

Christine a blind teenager attending Wilson Jr. High in Detroit, was a very lucky young teenager in Detroit back in 1966 – when she learned she had won a contest sponsored by Detroit radio station WKNR – with the prize being a recording session with none other than the Supremes!   She went on to become a teacher in Dearborn working with impaired students.  She was 13 years old when she won the recording session with the Supremes – a dream come true!

Christine Shumacher Wilson Spotlight (MCRFB-FINAL 01) January 27, 1967

Wilson Jr High

Paul Petersen

The Donna Reed Show’s star was a recording veteran of 5 years before coming to Motown in May of 1967 releasing two singles.  Paul began his professional career as a Mouseketeer when he was just ten years old.   He would become “Jeff Stone” on the Donna Reed Show and his sister was actress Shelley Fabares – another singing star.

Paul enjoyed six hit recordings on the Colpix label with his biggest hit being “My Dad” number 6 in 1962.  Paul formed a support group for child actors after his friend and fellow actor Rusty Hamer committed suicide.  Rusty had portrayed the character “Rusty Williams” son of Danny Williams on “Make Room for Daddy”.

Soupy Sales

Milton Supman was nick named “Soup Bone” and later “Soup Sales” by his older brothers.  He recorded several novelty records to no avail and released just one on Motown in January of 1969 a parody of “McArthur Park” – He was also awarded one Motown long play opportunity in 1969.

Joe Harnell

Joe Harnell was the band leader behind a great song in my opinion, “Fly Me To the Moon” which peaked at number 14 in 1963.  It would be one of only two chart appearances for Harnell.  He came out of Vaudeville and worked with so many famous artists including Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, and Marlene Dietrich.  He wrote commercial jingles and directed the music for the “Mike Douglas Show”

Joe recorded two singles and one long play for Motown in late 1969.

Gordon Staples

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Gordon was a violinist and concert master heading up the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and so he was readily available to release this single in March of 1971 – his only Motown appearance – Not sure who the “Motown Strings” were. Obviously studio musicians not receiving any notations with Motown.

Bobby Darin

Darin’s Motown appearance on the flagship label occurred not long before his death in December of 1973.  Prior to giving Motown a try he had spent a couple of unproductive years with the “Direction” label where he scored only one very minor hit “Long Line Rider” (number 79).

At Motown he recorded about a dozen tracks with several being released posthumously including two long plays – the second being a memorial LP.

During his very short life Bobby managed 41 hit singles – including his monster number 1 hit “Mack the Knife” which peaked at number 1 for nine incredible weeks!

The Jerry Ross Symposium

Jerry Ross was a composer who recorded with Motown in the early 1970’s releasing one LP and and one 45.  Ross was the producer behind several acts including Bobby Hebb on “Sunny”, Spanky and Our Gang on “Sunday Will Never Be The Same” and “Lazy Day”, Jay & the Techniques’ “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” and “Keep the Ball Rollin'”, Jerry Butler’s “Mr. Dream Merchant”, The Supremes with the Temptations doing “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”, “Venus” by the Shocking Blue, “Ma Belle Amie” by The Tee Set, and “Little Green Bag” by the George Baker Selection.

Ross and his Symposium released many singles on the Colossus record label in 1970 and 1971 often recording tracks by the Colossus artists he produced.  Ross was the founder of Colossus Records.

His Motown recordings were produced in New York City.

Irene “Granny” Ryan

One of the more peculiar artists to appear on the Motown label was Irene Ryan – co-star of the “Beverly Hillbillies” TV show which started up in 1962.  She portrayed “Daisy Granny Moses”.  Ryan started off her career in Vaudeville working with husband Tim Ryan.  Irene went on to appear often on Bob Hope’s radio program.

She released one single on the Motown label in 1973.

Michel Legrand

Michel aligned himself with Motown performing his “Love Theme from Lady Sings The Blues” a film which starred Diana Ross as Billie Holiday in 1972.  His Motown catalog consisted of a single 45.

The prolific composer scored dozens of motion pictures including “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, “The Thomas Crown Affair”, and “The Summer of 42”.  Legrand secured many Academy Award nominations winning three.

Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons are one of the few acts signed by Motown – apparently well past their prime – who did go on to some additional impressive success.  They recorded a handful of singles first for “Mowest” and then Motown from 1972 to 1974.  A year after their final Motown tracks, they hit it big with “Who Loves You” – at number 3.  Then followed up with a number one record (their fifth) “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”.

Stephen Cohn

Stephen Cohn was a Los Angeles based composer who composed for a group called “The Pleasure Fair” who also recorded as “The Rainy Day People”.  Cohn was primarily a composer of symphony music with his works recorded by symphonies around the world – He recorded one Motown LP in 1973 and released one single.

The Pat Boone Family

Pat Boone took a short sabbatical in September of 1974, releasing one single with his wife and daughters including Debbie Boone who a few years later would make her mark with her 10-week number one smash “You Light Up My Life” in 1977.  Red Foley was Pat’s father-in-law and grandfather to the kids.

Pat Boone logged in 60 hit records during his career including six number 1’s and 26 Top 20 hits!  He would be sign with Berry Gordy’s “Melodyland” label – which took on the name “Hitsville” after a lawsuit – Boone released at least three singles on Melodyland.

Joe Frazier

Perhaps predicting a victory over Muhammad Ali in the “Thrilla in Manila” which was only a couple of weeks distant when this Motown single was released – Motown provided the usually reserved Joe Frazier with the opportunity.  Of course we no how that one turned out – and about a year later “Smokin’ Joe” hung up his gloves.

His Motown recording date was not his first.  Prior to appearing on the label he released singles on the Capitol, Cloverlay, Knockout and Jobo record labels – all sporting fighting themes.

Jerry Butler

The “Ice Man” came to Motown after a very long and prosperous recording career first with the Impressions and then going solo with Vee Jay Records and more prominently on the Mercury record label.

As a solo act Jerry’s top three chart hits were “He Will Break Your Heart” in 1960 (number 7), “Moon River” in 1961 (number 11), and a number 4 hit with “Only the Strong Survive” in 1969.  My personal Butler song was his pairing with Betty Everett in 1964 with their number 5 Hot 100 hit “Let It Be Me” – surpassing the Everly Brothers’ 1960 version which peaked at number 7.

Jerry released four singles with Motown his final being a duet with Thelma Houston in July of 1977.  Only his second release “I Wanna Do It To You” managed to reach the Hot 100 at number 51.  Jerry released three Motown LP’s – two solo and one with Houston.

Albert Finney

Albert Finney came from England  known for his roles in Shakespearean productions.  How Albert came to Motown in the summer of 1977 is anyone’s guess –  He recorded a full long play and a couple of 45’s were released – providing Finney with the opportunity to record jazz of which he was so fond.

Motown’s PR department were absolutely certain that the album would be a big hit and so invested in a first class promotional tour in the United States.  It has been speculated that Motown had taken notice of fellow Brit Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park” and its success and thought they could replicate the feat.  It was not to be.  Although Finney was not a musician – he did compose all of the tracks on the album.

Billy Preston

After Billy Preston had migrated from the Beatles’ Apple Records in late 1970 and journeyed through A&M Records with nine charting singles and four charting long plays – he suddenly arrived at Motown in the late 1970’s.  Unlike many of the others who took a shot with Hitsville, Preston would land three chart singles with Motown (and Tamla) with his biggest being a the very impressive “With You I’m Born Again” going all the way to number 4 (the song only reached number 86 on the R&B charts.

He also recorded two long plays with Motown – one teamed with Syreeta – and both managed to chart.

The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers (there were six of them performing with the family act over time).  The Brothers placed 46 singles on the Hot 100 starting with 1959’s “Shout Part 1” (the song charted again in 1962 and was their second charting record).  Their hits spanned over four decades.  They departed Wand Records and experienced a four-year dry spell before coming on board with Motown – and being assigned to the Tamla label.

Their first effort “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak For You)” was their best effort reaching number 12 – and very identifiable as a “Holland, Dozier, Holland” composition and sparked by the “Funk Brothers” on instruments (love that song).  They departed Motown in 1967 and about two years later elected to start up their own record label “T-Neck”.  They would enjoy a long and productive run with their label and landing three big-time Top 10 singles “It’s Your Thing” – number 2 1969, “That Lady” – number 6, 1973 and “Fight The Power” – number 4 in 1975.

A Tamla LP with the same name as their hit charted nationally at only number 140.

Kiki Dee

Kiki Dee was born in Great Britain Pauline Matthews taking the name “Kiki Dee”.  He brief appearance at Motown resulted in two singles – one which charted on the Motown subsidiary label “Rare Earth” – “Love Makes the World Go Round” (number 87).  Kiki would soon depart for Rocket Records where she would enjoy three charting singles.

Early in her career Kiki provided backup vocals as a session singer and backed Dusty Springfield.

Motown’s Soul Label

March 28, 2014

The Soul label kicked off in the summer of 1964 with Shorty Long’s “Devil With The Blue Dress On” a song which reached the furthest outskirts of the Hot 100 at number 125, but would later be a significant hit record for Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels in 1966 (#4) coupled as a medley with Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly.”  Soul would join Motown’s “Big Four” (Tamla, Motown & Gordy being the other three).  Jr. Walker and the All Stars would anchor the label through its entire run (1964-1978), with Gladys Knight & The Pips signing on in mid 1966 to contribute a memorable string of chart hits.

Walker first came to the attention of Berry Gordy in 1962 via Gordy close associate and singer Harvey Fuqua and was signed to Fuqua’s Harvey record label along with some very obscure artists.  Gladys Knight & The Pips were a Detroit group who had several releases starting in 1960 with Vee Jay, Fury and Maxx records before joining the Berry Gordy family for a great run.  Unlike many other Motown artists – The Pips were not unfamiliar with success having scored a #1 R&B hit (#4 Hot 100) with “Every Beat of My Heart” in mid 1961.  And unlike several others they went on to considerable success after their Motown years with 15 Hot 100 hits including several Top Ten hits and a #1 “Midnight Train to Georgia”.  The group enjoyed 10 R&B Chart number ones.

In the later years, Soul Records would place a lot of faith in The Originals, releasing 15 singles – but not experiencing the success of Walker or the Pips.  – Visit the ever-growing Motown Soul 45 Label page.

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Tamla Records – The First Motown Label

March 16, 2014

As the Motown had the Supremes and Four Tops, Gordy the Temptations and Martha & the Vandellas, Tamla – the senior Motown label was anchored by first the Marvellettes and Miracles, soon to be joined by Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye, and Little Stevie Wonder!  The very first Motown family label releases were all on Tamla, starting off in January of 1959 starting off with Marv Johnson, The Singing Tigers and Barrett Strong.  Tamla continued to release 45 rpm vinyl into the year 2009.  Motown lost writer/pioneer/hit maker Marvin Gaye in April of 1984 when he was shot to death by his father during a quarrel.  He often composed for other Motown artists and teamed up often with their female stars including Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Tammi Terrell and finally Diana Ross.

Visit the under construction Motown Tamla 1960’s 45 page – Many more to come!

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Motown’s Mel-O-Dy Label

March 13, 2014

As the Mel-o-dy venture supports, Berry Gordy Jr., was game for attempting just about anything.  This from the web site (Motown Experts) “Seabear Studios” (Visit Web Site): “Mel-o-dy was a Motown subsidiary that was started in 1962. The early releases were soul oriented but later records on the label were country. The label was discontinued in 1965.” 

Lamont Dozier was a member of the famed Motown composer team – Holland-Dozier-Holland.   Country singer Howard had one lone single chart on the Billboard Hot Country Song Charts in 1973 “Last Will And Testimony (Of a Drinking Man”).   Gene Henslee released two singles on a bogus “Coors” label in the 1970’s – Mel-o-dy 110 – “Shambles” b/w Beautiful Women”.   Bruce Channel never appeared on the Country Charts but his “Hey Baby” did make it to number 2 and the R&B charts (#1 on the Billboard Hot 100) – in 1962.  Dorsey Burnette’s earlier pop hits did not appear on the Country Charts but he did manage 15 Country charters from 1972 until 1979 – the year in which he died of a heart attack.   His biggest country hit was his first “In The Spring (The Roses Always Turn Red)” – #21 in May of 1972.  Visit my new Mel-O-Dy 45 chronological listing page.

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Motown’s V.I.P.’s Rather Obscure!

March 11, 2014

According to the site “Motown Junkies” the V.I.P. label was formed in late 1963 to “promote primarily West Coast material and California artists”… similar to another Motown endeavor 10 years later with “MoWest”.  The first release came in late 1963 by Patrice Holloway – VIP 25001 “Stevie” b/w The Boy of My Dreams” which did not receive any air play attention and resulted in very few copies being pressed.  Patrice would go on to land a recording contract and release several sides with Capitol Records.  And yes, she is the younger sister of Motown recording artist Brenda Holloway.  Patrice passed away in 2006.  Visit our new Motown – V.I.P. 45 rpm chronological listing page.

The label continued until 1972 and then called it quits.  – Read the entire VIP story at Motown Junkie.

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Rare Earth – Rare Success!

March 9, 2014

The Motown label Rare Earth started up in July of 1969 Pretty Things release followed by releases from The Virgil Brothers, Wes Henderson, and The Easybeats.  The label’s namesake – Rare Earth released their first single in November of 1969 which failed to chart.  “Get Ready” finally broke the ice for the label in February, 1970 going all the way to number 4.  From there on it was a curious mix of signings of non-black groups and artists.  Only two acts made a dent on the charts – Rare Earth who had a respectable showing and producer R. Dean Taylor with a few of his own.

Before the Rare Earth project, Taylor penned some notable hits for Motown acts including The Four Tops (“I’ll Turn To Stone” and “I’m In A Different World”), The Temptations (“You’re All I Need”), and The Supremes (“I’m Livin’ In Shame” and a number 1 record “Love Child”).  The label wrapped it up in 1976.

Visit the new Motown Rare Earth – 45 Page

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Gordy 45’s: The Motor City Sound!

March 8, 2014

The Gordy label started off in 1962 with an obscure Temptation release on Gordy 1001 “Dream Come True” b/w Isn’t She Pretty”.  Like the Supremes it would take the Temptations awhile to catch on but when they did…..!    The Motown label Gordy continued to release 45’s into the mid 1980’s.  Following are the nearly complete collection of releases with chart positions (when charting) R&B first followed by Hot 100.  The Gordy label started off a little slow on chart success.  The Contours hit first with the monster hit “Do You Love Me” reaching number 1 on the R&B and #3 on the Hot 100 in August of 1962.  Soon both The Temptations and Martha & the Vandellas would firmly establish the success of the Gordy label.

Visit the just completed Gordy 45 Listing Page from the decade of the 1960’s.

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GORDY 7055 - 8-66 - 1-3 PS A GORDY 7033 - 8-24 - 8-2 PS