Girl Groups No 6: the Marvelettes - Playboy / Too Many Fish in the Sea
What a lot of people don't realise was that the success of Motown was initially strongly based on girl groups, first with the very girl groupy (and wonderful) Marvellettes and later with Martha and the Vandellas, and the Supremes.
Everyone knows "Please Mr Postman" (if you don't you better look it up yourselves) which was the first Motown U.S. number one, but have a listen to this gem two singles down the line but still in 1961: Playboy.
It's got everything that the other girl groups have, but lead singer Gladys Horton has something new, a tougher gruffer voice, and the music, well the backing band is jazz musicians playing pop, and the sound was something quite unique at the time. Even though it's a slowish number it's so compelling (like Mr Postman right from the start) with the attention grabbing guitar chord followed by the urgent handclapping and the searing entry of the drums as the Marvelettes post a warning straight off:
"Watch out!" then immediately the wonderful wonderful Gladys Horton (surely the most underrated female singer EVER) warning the others
"Oh girls you know we've got to.....
Girls you know we've got to....."
"Playboy get away from my door
I heard about the lovers you had before"
and then there is a kind of call and response with the rest of the groups, which allows Gladys to arpeggio sweetly:
"We-e-e-e-e-ell, playboy find yourself another toy
Cause this is one heart you won't destroy"
and the others take up her assertion:
"Cause I can't stand for what you're putting down
You've bin around with every girl in town"
so she can "oh yeah" exquisitely and do a few more of those languid "wells" and then:
"YOU AIN'T SAYING NOTHING IN MY BOOK
CAUSE THIS IS ONE FISH YOU'LL NEVER EVER HOOK" with such a great soulful growl that now he's either scared off forever or will never give up trying to get her. And this is what Motown first adds to the girlgroups genre: the Motown sound, and soul! Before, it was pop, even if there were some great singers (there's no-one better than Dahlene Love this side of Aretha Franklyn for example) but Gladys Horton is singing a soul vocal, and for the girl groups this is something new. And it marks a more assured assertiveness, a young woman who knows what she wants and he ain't it! One might even say that when they arrive at Motown, the girl groups have grown up!
And okay, when Motown had a hit, they repeated the fomula over and over (you might say this is Mr Postman part 2) until people stopped buying the records, but who cares when the groove is so good?
But just in case you think I'm going soft on you, slap up the volume and get a taste of this one only two years later:
"Look here girls, take this advice and remember always in life......!"
Into each life some tears must fall
although you love and lose you must stand tall
cause we've all got to cry sometimes
got to sigh sometimes
pull yourself together
no use crying forever
cause there's too many fish in the sea."
And on we go, Motown fully fledged, chopped lead guitar chords, hot bongos, even hotter drums, Jamie Jamerson on bass, Earl Van Dyke banging out the beat on the piano, and a blistering sax solo, everyone going bananas except the backing vocals who are coolness itself, while Gladys, smouldering all the while, asserts:
"I dont' want nobody who don't want me
I never loved nobody who don't love me
I don't need nobody who don't need me"
Are you still sitting down? Shame on you!