Two things prompted this story. One is that I happened to hear (on the radio, somewhat surprisingly) one of my favorite Temptations songs, “(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It’s You That I Need.”
Then rock superstar Bob Seger revealed in a national publication that in his opinion Gladys Knight was the best female vocalist at Motown. He specifically cited “Didn’t You Know (You’d Have to Cry Sometime)?” written and produced by the prolific Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson.
Both of these songs were hits, but neither is heard very much on the radio or elsewhere today which is unfortunate because they deserve the continued exposure.
And speaking of Ashford and Simpson, in the midst of writing and producing hits for numerous Motown artists, especially Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, and Diana Ross, Valerie Simpson recorded two solo albums, “Exposed” and “Valerie Simpson,” that are virtually forgotten today despite their merits.
However, Simpson did have one Top 30 hit with “Silly Wasn’t I” although “Can’t it Wait Until Tomorrow?” should have done just as well or better.
TWO OF my favorite records by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles are “The Love I Saw in You was Just a Mirage” and “I’ll Try Something New,” each a prime example of Robinson’s legendary songwriting skills.
Among other Miracles songs that were successful but deserve better are “My Girl Has Gone,” “I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying,” “Broken Hearted,” “(Come ’Round Here) I’m the One You Need,” “Yester Love” and “What’s so Good About Good-By?”
When it came to female vocal groups, during the golden era Motown was focused on the Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas and the Marvelettes, so the Velvelettes were never considered top priority despite their talent and a couple of big hits, so most of the public missed out on the great songs “These Things Will Keep Me Loving You,” “Lonely Lonely Girl am I” and “There He Goes.”
Kim Weston was in the same position. Fine songs like “A Thrill a Moment” and “Looking for the Right Guy” were overlooked. And why don’t we hear more Brenda Holloway? Her records were great, including “When I’m Gone,” “You Can Cry on My Shoulder,” “Every Little Bit Hurts,” “Just Look What You’ve Done” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.”
THE TEMPTATIONS, personnel changes notwithstanding, were a hitmaking machine for Motown, and the world knows their many classics, but certain other songs have basically gotten buried in history. “I Want a Love I Can See,” “Soul to Soul,” “Dream Come True,” “My Baby,” “Paradise,” “Lady Soul” and “Farewell My Love” are seven that come to mind.
“Laughing Boy,” “Your Old Stand By” and “You Lost the Sweetest Boy” were all Top 10 hits for Mary Wells, but they have become radio rarities.
“Nothing’s too Good for My Baby,” “Hey Love,” “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday,” “I Don’t Know Why,” “Castles in the Sand.” These are Stevie Wonder songs missing from radio.
There was no such thing as a Marvin Gaye record not charting, but a lot of the singles he had from 1962 to 1968 seldom find their way onto radio playlists, even satellite radio. And gems like “Chained,” “One More Heartache,” “Pretty Little Baby,” “Take This Heart of Mine,” “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” “Baby Don’t You Do It,” “You’re a Wonderful One” and “Can Get a Witness?” certainly should.
AND THEN there’s the Supremes. “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” was a Top 10 R&B/Top 30 Pop hit, but the ladies had several excellent releases before that, most notably “A Breath Taking Guy,” “Your Heart Belongs to Me” and “Let Me Go the Right Way.” Only the last song went national. However, the Supremes ascended to megastardom when “Where Did Our Love Go?” and all the others set the charts on fire and in the process sparked the Motown explosion.
“Ask the Lonely” is one of best songs the Four Tops ever recorded — and one of Levi Stubbs’ strongest performances — but how often do we hear in on the airwaves? Same for “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over),” “Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life),” “I’m in a Different World” and “7 Rooms of Gloom.”
I HAVE always felt that the Jackson 5’s ballad “Maybe Tomorrow” and discofied rendition of Diana Ross & the Supremes’ “Forever Came Todayæ should be heard more, as should “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You),” “I Don’t Want to do Wrong,” “Just Walk in My Shoes” and “It Should Have Been Me” by Gladys Knight & the Pips.
We hear “Please Mr. Postman” and a few other Marvelettes songs on the radio all the time, but just as worthy of exposure are “I’ll Keep Holding On,” “When You’re Young and in Love,” “Danger, Heartbreak Dead Ahead,” “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” and “Here I am Baby.”
Also in “girl group” territory, Martha & the Vandellas’ “My Baby Loves Me,” “In My Lonely Room,” “Loves (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)” and “You’ve Been in Love Too Long” merit more airplay.
I am guessing — no, make that assuming — that many of the songs cited here most readers cannot recall, but the point is, there is far more to the Motown story than what is commonly heard on the radio and elsewhere, including the smash stage show “Motown: The Musical.”
Radio programmers should do more homework and, yes, take a few chances.