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Cream of The Crate: Album # 134 – The Marvelettes: Greatest Hits

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cream of the crate: album # 134 – the marvelettes: greatest hits

cream of the crate: album # 134 – the marvelettes: greatest hits 

 

  This review was originally posted on the first Toorak Times web site where publications ceased on that site in March 2017. The old site will be permanently closed in 2020 and these reviews are being re-published in order to preserve them on the current Toorak Times/Tagg site.

 

 

 

"The Marvelettes’ début single is easily Motown’s best single to date (Please Mr Postman).” - (Motown Junkies) . . . "The first Motown act to score a Number One pop single on the pop chart this foursome helped define the girl group era." - (Rolling Stone) . . . "The Marvelettes also opened a new door for all girl groups." (JazzWax)

This is album retro-review number 134 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and Cd albums in my collection.

The series is called
“Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.

The first fifty reviews were vinyl only, and the second fifty reviews were CD’s only. Links to these reviews can be found at the bottom of this page. From review 101 onward I have mixed vinyl and CD albums and, try and present an Australian album every fifth review!

For this review I’ve dipped back into the 1960’s and pulled out an album, albeit a compilation, of one of the most excellent Motown girl groups.

This album is very special to me because not only is the music knockout, I bought the album new in 1966 in the week of its release and it has stayed in my collection since.

I don’t have many albums in such great condition from that period.

This group is the Marvelettes and they were one of a number of groups based around a lead singer with support singers.

The album is the 1966 vinyl album- Greatest Hits and was released on the Motown label – M5-180V1.

cream of the crate: album # 134 – the marvelettes: greatest hits
Album label – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

The album has 12 tracks, six per side and did represent some of the best work by this excellent group.

The liner notes sum up this album and group so perfectly, it makes for a great introduction. Some information is slightly inaccurate, which I’ll come back to later.

Written by Scott St. James from Motown Records, he writes:” Start with Please Mr. Postman and you start with The Marvelettes, recording artists who have built up an unprecedented history of top chart hits . . . their talent and effort had found the groove . . . this was a groove they had built for themselves, and which was moulded to smoothness by the creative team at Motown Record Corporation.

The Marvelettes started off their career as a five piece outfit consisting of schoolgirls Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson (later Schaffner), Georgeanna Tillman (later Gordon), Juanita Cowart (later Cowart Motley), and Georgia Dobbins, who was replaced by Wanda Young (later Rogers) prior to the group signing their first deal.

It is true, that while groups like the Supremes were being groomed by Motown, and and were seen as the “darlings” of Motown, these girls literally “snuck” in, and actually had the very first Motown girl group hit.

No mean feat when you realise that not only were the Supremes on the books but so were some other great girl groups girl, such as Martha and The Vandellas.

cream of the crate: album # 134 – the marvelettes: greatest hits
Marvelettes: 1961 – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

In fact the Miracles only just pipped them for the honour of being the first group, male or female, to have a Motown hit.

For the Marvelettes that track was the fantastic, Please Mr Postman which shot to the top of the Billboard Top 100 and R&B Charts in 1961.

Understand, the Marvelettes were only signed to Motown a short time prior to this track being recorded. In many ways it is quite possible that had this track not been a number 1, we may never have heard much more of the Marvelettes.

Original member Gladys Horton has written, “We weren’t getting support from the company. In fact they hated us, made fun of us, we were some kind of joke to them.

They really looked down on country people like us because we didn’t have there slick city ways. Also, we couldn’t sing as good as the Supremes; they had been practicing their harmonies for three or four years while we had only started.

But the real reason they were mad at us, I guess, was that we got a hit before the Supremes.

We got Motown their first straight hit with a girl group and it was with a song we had written ourselves. Can you imagine?

Motown had been grooming the Supremes for years and the Supremes had done nothing. They had writers like Smokey Robinson and each one had been trying to get a hit on the Supremes. But all of a sudden here were these little nobodies, with their own song that they wrote at number one on the charts.”

cream of the crate: album # 134 – the marvelettes: greatest hits
The Marvelettes – Gladys,Katherine,Georgina & Wanda (1963)

 

There is absolutely no doubt that the Supremes were groomed to be the number one female act at Motown, and that there was intense rivalry between these two groups.

But even though the Marvelettes were never able to reach that number one position again, their follow up – Playboy, and then Beechwood 4-5789 established them as a group to be reckoned

They released 18 singles between 1961 and 1966 (when this album was produced) and seven were in the top 40 on the pop charts and sixteen were in the R&B top 40, of which eight were well inside the top 10.

They released four LP’s including this one, in the years 1961-1966, and released a total of twelve albums up to 1975.

All twelve tracks on this album were either Top 40 Pop and or R&B tracks.

cream of the crate: album # 134 – the marvelettes: greatest hits
Marvelettes – Wanda, Katherine & Gladys (1965) – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

There have been a total of seven members of the Marvelettes
Gladys Horton (deceased)
Katherine Anderson (deceased)
Georgeanna Tillman(deceased)
Wanda Rogers (deceased)
Ann Bogan
Juanita Cowart (deceased)
Georgia Dobbins (deceased)

So what is the track listing on this album?

SIDE 1

  1. Don’t Mess with Bill

  2. You’re My Remedy

  3. Locking Up My Heart

  4. As Long As I Know He’s Mine

  5. Too Many Fish in the Sea

  6. Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead


SIDE 2

  1. Please Mr. Postman

  2. Playboy

  3. Strange I Know

  4. Forever

  5. Forever Twistin’ Postman

  6. Beechwood 4-5789


We kick off with track number one,
Don’t Mess With Bill.

Now while this track only charted in the top 10 of the pop charts and number 3 in the R&B charts, it was a gold selling record for the group.

Released in 1966 it was both written and produced by a Motown star in his own right, Smokey Robinson.

“Smokey’s” first name is actually William, and it is often believed that the song refers to him in that truncated first name of Bill, but according to Robinson he chose the name because if fit the words, and that was all.

There are a couple of reasons for its success.

Firstly it’s a song with great harmonies and has Horton’s smokingly sexy lead vocals. It’s also a song that the youth of the day could relate to, bringing back a lot of memories of starting college, life changes, & new relationships.

Then the track has a cool, bubbly bass line and Motown’s prototype handclaps that were featured in many Motown hits. 

Finally, it has a beautiful but understated sax line!

While there is an argument that can be mounted that compilations should have the tracks in order of release in order that the listener can track the changes and development of the group, this is a very good track to open the album with.

If this track doesn’t want to make you desire to listen to more, then what follows probably will not interest you.

Personally, I love the track, and it is a portend of not just more to come, but even better pieces.

Don’t Mess With Bill



With five other tracks to choose from on side 1, the job was never going to be easy, but I stopped at track number fiveToo Many Fish In The Sea.

First of all here are some factual reasons why this is a good track.

It was the groups first successful foray into the top 40 reaching number 25 in 1964 and in a rather complicated manner, it was a single with THREE lead vocalists, Georgeanna, Katherine and Gladys.

It was also the last time Gladys sang as a lead on an A-side as she would soon be relegated to b-side leads with the lead being taken by Wanda on the A-sides.

There would also be a re-release of this track without Georgeanna, with the leads taken by Wanda, Gladys and Katherine.

I really like the track because its a bright happy piece that showcases the Marvelettes total vocal talents.

They may not have been as sweet and refined – like the Supremes, but their enthusiasm and energy just bubbles over and this track is great example.

Hey the concept is simple! The girl is being given advice not to waste her time, energy and love on a boy who will not reciprocate – no need, there are plenty more boys out there!

And, this is yet another fantastic dance track, it is simply impossible not to groove along with the track.

Listen here, girls
Take this advice, and remember always in life:

Into each heart some tears must fall
Though you love and lose, you must stand tall
‘Cause we all got to cry sometimes
I said, sigh sometimes
Pull yourself together
No use crying forever
Because there’s too many fish in the sea
Too many fish in the sea
I said, there’s short ones, tall ones, fine ones, kind ones
Too many fish in the sea

My mother once told me something
And every word is true
Don’t waste your time on a fella
Who doesn’t love you
He’ll only mislead you
Only grieve you
Don’t worry about him
Do without him
Because there’s too many fish in the sea
Too many fish in the sea
I said, there’s short ones, tall ones, fine ones, kind ones
Too many fish in the sea

Well, if the fish isn’t on your line
Bait your hook and keep on trying
Don’t let him get you down
There’s other boys around
Because there’s too many fish in the sea
Too many fish in the sea
I said, there’s short ones, tall ones, fine ones, kind ones
Too many fish in the sea

I don’t want nobody that don’t want me
‘Cause there’s too many fish in the sea
Ain’t gonna love nobody that don’t love me, now
‘Cause there’s too many fish in the sea
I don’t need nobody that don’t need me
‘Cause there’s too many fish in the sea
I don’t want nobody that don’t love me, now
‘Cause there’s too many fish in the sea

Too Many Fish In The Sea

 

Turning the LP over we come to track number one, and quite possibly this groups very best track – Please Mr Postman!

It was the groups debut single and the first Motown girl group to get a number one on the Billboard Top 100 Pop Chart.

What a brilliant pop composition and it featured lead singer Gladys Horton, hoping that the postman has brought her a letter from her boyfriend, who is away at war.

Accompaniment is provided by the Funk Brothers, including Marvin Gaye on drums.

One of the many great tracks to come out of “Hitsville“, the original studios of Motown the track was covered by a number of artists probably the best known cover is by the Beatles who simply reversed the genders in the song.

The track also shot to number 1 in Canada and Australia.

 

cream of the crate: album # 134 – the marvelettes: greatest hits
Hitsville USA – [CLICK to enlarge]

 

In fact the concept of love, letters and the post was not new. Fats Waller – “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter; Elvis and “Return To Sender”; The Box Tops and “The Letter” and, Stevie Wonder, “Signed Sealed and Delivered”, just being some of the better known tracks.

But somehow the Marvelettes top them all.

Now William Garnett, a friend of member Georgia Dobbins, offered a form of this song to the group, and it was more blues based. Dobbins actually took to re-writing it, and in a little known fact, part of the song was written by a postman who helped Dobbins complete the lyrics.

His name was Freddie Gorman and his mail route included Brewster public housing where members of (would you believe it), The Supremes lived.

 

cream of the crate: album # 134 – the marvelettes: greatest hits

 

Now while the Beatles did a passable version, in my mind this version has fire and passion and that was a trademark of this group!

Oh yes, wait a minute, Mr. Postman
Wait, Mr. Postman

There must be some word today
From my boyfriend who’s so far away
Please, Mr. Postman, look and see
Is there a letter, a letter for me?

I was standing here waiting, Mr. Postman
So, so patiently
For just a card, for just a letter
Saying he’s returning home to me

Please, Mr. Postman
Oh yeah
Please, please, Mr. Postman
Woah yeah

So many days you passed me by
You saw the tears standing in my eye
You wouldn’t stop to make me feel better
By leaving me a card or a letter

Please, Mr. Postman, look and see
Is there a letter, oh yeah, in your bag for me
You know it’s been so long
Yes, since I heard from this boyfriend of mine

You better wait a minute, wait a minute
Oh, you better wait a minute
Please, please, Mr. Postman
Please check and see
Just one more time for me

You better wait, wait a minute
Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute
Please, Mr. Postman
Deliver the letter, the sooner the better

Wait a minute, wait a minute
Wait a minute, please, Mr. Postman
Wait a minute, wait a minute
Woah

Please Mr Postman

The final track on the album is actually my favourite Marvelettes track. 

Beechwood 4-5789 has one of those great lyric hooks, that is simple, and even if you don’t know the words, you will find yourself singing, Beechwood 4-5789.

As great as it is, it probably just fail to reach the heights that Wilson Picket’s “telephone number” song – 6345789, does. It comes close!

Yet, did you notice?

Both songs end with “45789“, and if you consider that Beechwood would have been reduced to BE on the phone, that would equate to dialling “23” it would make the phone number, 2345789!

Why this is so, that is the closeness of the two song titles?

I certainly can’t determine an adequate answer to this but we accept it is one of those strange oddity’s that pop up in music from time to time.

The Marvelettes track was written by Marvin Gaye (who again played drums on this track) and, William “Mickey” Stevenson and George Gordy in 1962.

Wilson Pickets 6345 789 was written by Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper four years later.

Now if you want to make some sense of the song the first thing you need to come to grips with, that in most parts of the USA, prior to 1970 phone numbers had a word prefix – such as “Beechwood” (the Suburb.

Now as far as I know the only Beechwood (with a double ‘e”)is in Massachusetts.

cream of the crate: album # 134 – the marvelettes: greatest hits

 

But the song is timeless in its simplicity. The song is a tale of a girl who wants to become more acquainted with a certain guy. She’s so interested in him that she gives him her telephone number (“Beechwood 4-5789“) and welcomes him to come to her house and too take her out on dates anytime he wishes.

It is yet another great song by the Marvelettes to dance to, and dancing was almost the number one passion of a teen in the 1960’s!

Beechwood 4-5789


The group kept going in one form or another even after they stopped recording and
they kept doing live concerts until Georgeanna Tillman died.

She was the last of the original members.

The “group did try to keep going but under American law the group cannot continue to perform under the original name unless at least one original member is in it, and so, they became a tribute group.

Of their twelve albums released between 1961 and 1975 five are compilations.

This album, Marvelettes Greatest Hits, was the only album to chart within the Top 10, and it did so in the USA R&B charts.

It really does showcase almost all their truly great tracks, with probably only the track When You’re In Love (1967) deserving to be considered as a great track, yet not on the album.

So I have no hesitation in recommending this album if you are looking to add the Marvelettes to your collection in the form of a vinyl album.

The original is very hard to find, and even my “go-to” site, Discogs, hasn’t one listed for sale.

At the time of writing this, Amazon had one used copy for US$68.00 and, for US$65.00 had repressed versions.

Otherwise their more recent CD – The Definitive Collection is fine, but it doesn’t cover all their earlier good tracks, such as the follow up to Mr Postman – that being Forever Twisting Postman.

Mind you, I am discovering that across the globe there are all sorts of re-releases that must be produced under license from Motown. For those who want the “lot” there is a CD volume set called “Forevermore: The Complete Motown Albums Vol. 2” – which actually has 87 tracks by the Marvelettes, and a few by other artists, and Discogs has secondhand copies for around Au$60.00.

 


VIDEOS:

Checking our Youtube throws up the following live performances, sadly the live videos all happen to be the tracks I have already chosen and played for you. The first track is great because it is a medley that includes tracks other than the one’s discussed above, and, it features the Motown Review. The Mr Postman track is fantastic! Incidentally, I know ads are a necessary evil on Youtube, so put up with them because the vids are worth it.

 

Marvelettes at the Apollo (1963)

 

Mr Postman (1965)

 

Don’t Mess with Bill (1965)

 

  
Too Many Fish In The Sea (Extended version)


Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:

 

To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –

cream of the crate cd review #2 : robert johnson – the complete recordings

 

To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –

 

Click to open the following Vinyl reviews from 101 onward:

#101:  Bo Diddley – Bo Diddley’s Beach Party (Live)

#102:  Les Paul and Mary Ford – The World Is waiting For The Sunrise

#103:  Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica

#104:  Los Fronterizos – Misa Creole

#105:  Bobby Bright – Child Of Rock And Roll

#106:  The  Nylons – One Size Fits All

#107:  Jimmy Cliff – The Harder They Come [Soundtrack from the film]

#108:  Paul Simon – Graceland

#109.  The Ventures – The Very Best Of

#110.  The Pardoners – Indulgences

#111.  Atlantic R&B: Volumes 1 – 3 [1947 to 1957] 

#112.  Atlantic R&B Volumes 4 & 5 [1957 – 1965]

#113.  Roots of Rock: Vol.12 – Union Avenue Breakdown

#114.  David Fanshawe – African Sanctus

#115.  A Reefer Derci – Various Artists

#116.  Dr. John – Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch

#117.  The Walker Brothers – The Walker Brothers

#118.  Peter Gabriel – Peter Gabriel

#119.  Curved Air – Airconditioning

#120.  The Delltones – The Best of The Delltones

#121.  Hound Dog Taylor – Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers

#122.  Bessie Smith – Queen of The Blues

#123.  The Shadows – The Shadows Greatest Hits

#124.  Gil Scott Heron – Reflections

#125.  The Dingoes – Five Times The Sun

#126.  Bert Jansch and John Renbourn – Bert and John

#127.  Nat King Cole – The Complete After Midnight Sessions

#128.  Various Artists – The Rock and Roll Collection [A Box Set]

#129.  Sam Cooke – 16 Most Requested Songs

#130.  Various Artists – Australian Rock Heritage Vol.1

#131:  Wilson Pickett – The Exciting Wilson Pickett

#132.  Martha and The Vandellas – Greatest Hits

#133.  Van Morrison – The Best Of

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