Harry Szmerling Co https://harryszmerlingco.com.au/ Fri, 26 Mar 2021 01:13:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.4.3 https://harryszmerlingco.com.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/1123/2018/05/cropped-Harry-Szmerling-Logo-White-3-32x32.png Harry Szmerling Co https://harryszmerlingco.com.au/ 32 32 MY 40 FAVOURITE BEATLES SONGS https://harryszmerlingco.com.au/2021/03/26/my-40-favourite-beatles-songs/ https://harryszmerlingco.com.au/2021/03/26/my-40-favourite-beatles-songs/#respond Fri, 26 Mar 2021 00:52:22 +0000 https://harryszmerlingco.stackedsite.com/?p=25929 What follows is a list of my favourite Beatles songs ranked from number 40 to number 1.  These are my favourites.  It doesn’t mean that I think that these are the best Beatles songs although in most cases I think they are.  But I’ve excluded songs such as “Yesterday” and “Something” that most people love…

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What follows is a list of my favourite Beatles songs ranked from number 40 to number 1.  These are my favourites.  It doesn’t mean that I think that these are the best Beatles songs although in most cases I think they are.  But I’ve excluded songs such as “Yesterday” and “Something” that most people love because, as good as they may be, they are not amongst my personal favourites.  All of the songs that follow were either written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney or by George Harrison. 

Number 40 – It Won’t be Long

This is the opening track of the Beatles second album “With the Beatles”.  It utilised the “Yeah Yeah Yeah” phrase also used in “I’ll Get You”, “Polythene Pam” and famously in “She Loves You”.  This track is an upbeat rocking number which would have been released as a single by just about any other recording act at that time.

Number 39 – Revolution

Which version?  Both of them, the original version which was the flip side to “Hey Jude” and the opening track on side 4 of The White Album.  John Lennon’s lyrics take a political turn: “But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao – You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.”  Did Don McLean refer to this in “American Pie” when he sang “When Lenin (Lennon?) read a book on Marx”?

Number 38 – There’s a Place

This was a track from the “Please Please Me” album.  It’s a John Lennon composition and although mention is made of a girl, it’s really about introspection. 

Number 37 – Dear Prudence

This John Lennon song was written whilst the group was spending time in India with the Maharishi in 1968.  The reference to Prudence was to Mia Farrow’s sister who was shy and introverted.  “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play?”  The song has a nice tinkling guitar intro and fade out.

Number 36 – You’re Gonna to Lose That Girl

This is a great pop song by John Lennon.  As with many songs by the Beatles, this would have been a smash hit if released by almost anyone else.  But for the Beatles, it was just another track from the movie soundtrack album “Help”.  In a way this was a continuation of the theme expressed in “She Loves You”, where the guy being sung to must take some action or he might lose the girl.    

Number 35 – Hey Bulldog

This song is underrated.  It’s hidden away as a track on the “Yellow Submarine” album and is easily the best track on that album.  Unusually for a Beatles song, it has a piano riff rather than a guitar riff similar to “Lady Madonna.”  Some ad lib banter can be heard towards the end.

Number 34 – I Saw Her Standing There

This was the flip side of the Beatles first hit “Love Me Do” and is the opening track on the “Please Please Me” album.  It’s a typical Beatles song from their early era and the lyrics “Well my heart went boom, when I crossed that room” was not exactly a portent of things to come but in its time “I saw her standing there” had a lot to offer. 

Number 33 – No Reply

This song has no musical introduction and commences with a double-tracked John Lennon.  The narrative is about a man lamenting his lost love.  It is the opening track of the “Beatles For Sale” album which was the last album the Beatles recorded that included compositions by others.

Number 32 – The Word

This is not a boy girl love song.  But it is about love.  “Now that I know what I feel must be right, I’m here to show everybody the light,” is evangelical.  It’s from the “Rubber Soul” album which exemplified the Beatles’ musical development.

Number 31 – You Can’t Do That

This was the flip side to “Can’t buy me Love”.  This is John Lennon at his menacing, aggressive best.  “I’m gonna let you down, and leave you flat” as a threat to his girlfriend not being true might be politically incorrect today but it packed a punch back in 1964.

Number 30 – I’ll Be Back

This gorgeous ballad is the last track on the “A Hard Days Night” album.  It was composed mainly by John.  Apparently this song was created around the chords of Del Shannon’s “Runaway”.

Number 29 – This Boy

This song was not a hit but its flip side, “I want to Hold Your Hand” was a monster hit.  It’s a slow somewhat soulful ballad.  George Harrison once said that this song was John Lennon trying to do Smokey Robinson.  Perhaps.  Music critic William Mann wrote in 1963 that the song had pendiatonic clusters.  I have no idea what pendiatonic clusters are but it sounds impressive.

Number 28 – Taxman

This song was written by George Harrison and he was the lead singer.  John and Paul added some background vocals “Mr Wilson – Mr Heath”.  George was complaining about the very high level of tax payable in Britain.  There are some clever lines and the lyrics are political and biting.  “And my advice for those who die, declare the pennies on your eyes” – “And you’re working for no one but me”.  The Beatles must have thought that this was a pretty good song because it was the opening track to the “Revolver” album. 

Number 27 – Back in the USSR

Paul McCartney said that the concept of this song was inspired by Chuck Berry’s “Back in the USA”.  The main thing about this song is the tribute to the Beach Boys “Well those Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the West behind, and Moscow girls make me sing and shout, that Georgia’s always on my mind.”  The backing is pure Beach Boys and is a tribute.  Paul McCartney has said that the Beach Boys album “Pet Sounds” is his favourite non-Beatles album.

Number 26 – Do You Want to Know a Secret

This is a great song which was a mere album track on the “Please Please Me” album.  I am not sure why it was given to George to sing and I don’t think he sang it particularly well.  There was a hit version by Bill J Kramer and The Dakotas that went to number 1 in England.  The Beatles had so many hits up their sleeve that they could afford to dole a few out to friends and others.

Number 25 – Got to Get You Into My Life

This is the second last track on the “Revolver” album.  It has a busting jazzy melody which is complemented by the use of brass, something unusual in Beatles songs.  In the last verse Paul lets loose and the brass is joined by electric guitars.  Superb stuff and a great intro to the brooding “Tomorrow Never Knows”.

Number 24 – Hey Jude

This was the Beatles best selling single record.  Why?  It can be divided into two parts, the ballad and the extended fade out.  The ballad is not bad.  The melody is pleasant enough and the lyrics, giving advice (perhaps to John Lennon’s son) are ok.  The fade out goes on for a full five minutes and have lots of people jamming and shouting in the background (apparently including Mick Jagger).  I have no doubt that the fade out is the reason for this song’s enormous commercial success. 

Number 23 – When I’m Sixty Four

This track from the “Sgt Pepper” Album clearly shows Paul McCartney’s great versatility.  It asks if a woman will still be with him when he gets older, when he is sixty four years old.  The song was arranged in a 1920’s band style.

Number 22 – With a Little Help From My Friends

This is the second track on the “Sgt Pepper” Album.  It commences with the ending of the opening track.  The expression “With a little help from friends” has entered modern day vernacular.  The Beatles were into LSD trips at this stage and some of the references in this song may have reflected that.  “What do you see when you turn out the light?  I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine” sounds like being on a trip.

Number 21 – If I Fell

This song was written by John.  John and Paul sang together into the same microphone when recording.  The structure is unusual.  It opens with an introduction that isn’t repeated later in the song and the body of the song has no real verse/chorus structure.  The song was featured in the movie “A Hard Day’s Night.”  Most of the Beatles slower songs are associated with Paul but this composition by John is wonderful and underrated.

Number 20 – Michelle

This lovely Paul McCartney ballad is on the “Rubber Soul” album.  It incorporated a few French words and so far as I am aware, is the only Beatles song recorded in English which contained a foreign language.  I am not including “Sun King” which had some fake foreign sounding words.  But “Michelle” is a beautiful song, quickly became a standard and showed Paul McCartney’s versatility as a song writer.  

Number 19 – I Want to Hold Your Hand

This is the song that propelled the Beatles to the number 1 chart position in America in 1964.  It’s a great rock n roll song from that era but really, the Beatles (as followed by the British invasion) were ready to bust open the American charts.  In the same week that “I want to hold your hand” went from number 43 to number 1, “She loves you” went from number 51 to number 11.  This song will forever be associated with Beatlemania, those wild frenetic days when four lads from Liverpool with long hair drove girls wild and drove parents around the bend.

Number 18 – Norwegian Wood

This is the second track on the “Rubber Soul” album.  If any song exemplifies the change in Beatles style then “Norwegian Wood” is it.  George Harrison used a sitar.  To my knowledge, this had never previously been done on a pop record.  The lyrics tell of a strange encounter with a woman.  It’s a lament by John Lennon, a small vignette.

Number 17 – I’m Only Sleeping

This song was about sleep, or meditation, or just lying in bed.  Who knows?  There are some lovely harmonies and a backwards guitar.  It helped to set the psychedelic mood for “Revolver”. 

Number 16 – Things We Said Today

This song is from the “A Hard Day’s Night” album but it was not included in the film.  It’s haunting and eerie.  It’s an underrated song which is not played often but I regard it as first class.

Number 15 – Magical Mystery Tour

Some might say that this song doesn’t deserve to be in this list and certainly not this high.  It was written by John and Paul during a period in which most of their songs were written mostly by one or the other.  It employed circus and fairground barkers “Roll Up! Roll Up!” Later on it was said that the song was the equivalent of a drug trip and that “Roll Up” was referring to rolling a joint.  I love the trumpet playing and the lovely piano fade out at the end.

Number 14 – Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

This is the title track from the Sgt Pepper Album.  It starts with fake tune ups and then the guys sing that they hope we will enjoy the show.  This introduces the album’s thematic quality.  The second last track on the album states that they hope we enjoyed the show.  The two tracks are different in that the opening track is slower and theme setting whereas the closing track is a rocking number that fades into “A Day in the Life.”

Number 13 – All My Loving

This is regarded as a classic.  It was the third track on the “With the Beatles” album.  It was the first song that the Beatles sang in their famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan show on the 9th of February 1964.  Over 73 million people watched that show which was the largest audience ever for a TV show to that time.

Number 12 – Day Tripper

Apparently this song had drug references.  I don’t get that but it doesn’t matter.  It has a sensational guitar riff and is a classic rocking song.  It was the flip side to “We Can Work It Out” which was more popular. 

Number 11 – Happiness is a Warm Gun

Whilst on Tour in the US, John Lennon saw a magazine which had an advertisement headed “Happiness Is A Warm Gun”.  Great.  You’ve just shot something and you should be happy.  John thought that this was insane but also a good title to a song.  This song is the last track on the first side of the White album and can be divided into four sections.  The last section which features the title of the song is brilliant classic doowop music.  The Beatles could write just about any genre of music which they chose.

Number 10 – I Am the Walrus

In an interview, John Lennon once said that many of the lyrics which he came up with were utilised only for their rhyming qualities rather for any philosophical or esoteric reason.  He probably had “I am the Walrus” in mind when he said that.  Surely “Semolina pilchard climbing up the Eiffel Tower” was not meant to convey anything.  If the Beatles ever wrote a song whilst they were tripping, then this must have been one of them.  Although the lyrics are generally meaningless, I love this song.  It’s melodic and weird.  Brilliant stuff.

Number 9 – Come Together

This song is just so cool!  It opened the “Abbey Road” album and had some unusual sound effects.  The lyrics are largely nonsensical but it all worked seamlessly.

Number 8 – Here There and Everywhere

This is a lovely song which is on the “Revolver” album.  In a later interview Paul McCartney said that he was partly influenced by the Beach Boy’s album “Pet Sounds” in writing this song.  In an interview he said it’s his favourite song that he wrote.

Number 7 – Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds

This is the third track on the “Sgt Pepper” album and is all about LSD.  Or is it?  Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds sounds like a reference to LSD although John Lennon said that his son Julian came home from school with a painting and declared that it was Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.  Who cares!  This song has amazing word pictures “Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies”.  How about that?  I think it was about LSD.

Number 6 – Tomorrow Never Knows

John Lennon in writing this song was apparently inspired by Timothy Leary and the Tibetan Book of the Dead.  “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream”.  How about that for an opening?  Strange sound effects were used and lots of studio tricks which created an amazing soundscape.  It’s weird, ethereal and strange.  It’s brilliant!

Number 5 – In My Life

This song is from “Rubber Soul” album.  It was written by John Lennon and was very personal.  John made references to friends; apparently there was a reference to Stewart Sutcliffe who was a great friend of the Beatles and who died before they became famous. 

Number 4 – She Loves You

This song optimised what Beatlemania was all about.  On release, it was a huge hit in Europe and Australia but went nowhere in the US.  That is until 1964.  Apparently the “yeah yeah yeah” was taken from a Bobby Rydell song called “We Got Love”.  The Beatles who weren’t well known were an opening act for Bobby Rydell and they took note of the “yeah yeah yeah”.  I wonder if Bobby Rydell got any royalties.

Number 3 – A Day in the Life

This song was inspired by various articles that John and Paul read in newspapers.  It’s like a collage, a montage.  “I’d love to turn you on” is a reference to getting high or tripping surely!  The soaring orchestral passages half way through and at the end of the song (followed by an interminable note) describe experiencing a trip.  The middle part talks about waking up and going back to sleep again.  This song closed the “Sgt Pepper” album and is a masterpiece.

Number 2 – Eleanor Rigby

This song was on the “Revolver” album.  It tells a story in three brief verses.  The violin backing gives the song a medieval baroque feel.  Ray Charles made a great funky version of this song but frankly, his version is a different song.  This song was written in 1966 when the Beatles were still in their early to middle twenties.  Paul McCartney is a genius.  So was John, but anyway….

And so, before number one, I’d like to do some honourable mentions.  Now honourable mentions refers to songs that didn’t quite make it into my top 40 favourites.  But there are so many Beatles songs that almost made it that they could hardly be called honourable mentions.  So instead, I am going to list my three favourite Beatles recordings which they did not write.  And so, in descending order:-

Number 3 – “Roll Over Beethoven”

This is the opening track on the second side of the “With the Beatles” album.  It features George Harrison double tracked and is frenetic and exciting.  Perhaps Chuck Berry would have approved of this version of his classic song. 

Number 2 – “Money”

John Lennon does a great shouting version of the old Barrett Strong classic song.  There is heavy use of piano throughout and Paul and George so some great background harmonies.  Apparently, this song led to near riots in the old cavern days.

Number 1 – “Twist and Shout”

This song was released as a single in America and had huge sales.  Well, all Beatles releases had huge sales but this song was really good.  The song was originally recorded by the Isley Brothers and had a more soulful calypso feel to it and I actually prefer the Isley Brothers version.  But the Beatles version is just great.

Number 1 – Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry Field was apparently a Salvation Army home in Liverpool about which John Lennon had fond memories.  Everything about this song is remarkable.  The production (George Martin was also a genius), the structure, the lyrics “Living is easy with eyes closed” the wistful nostalgic feel.  It may not be everybody’s favourite Beatles song.  But it’s mine.

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My 40 Favourite Motown Songs of All Time https://harryszmerlingco.com.au/2021/03/08/what-follows-is-list-of-my-favourite/ https://harryszmerlingco.com.au/2021/03/08/what-follows-is-list-of-my-favourite/#respond Mon, 08 Mar 2021 01:59:47 +0000 https://harryszmerlingco.stackedsite.com/?p=25853 What follows is a list of my favourite Motown songs ranked from number 40 to number 1. It is not a list of what I regard as the 40 best Motown songs.  These are my favourite Motown songs. The list reflects my personal opinion which may change from time to time.  So you won’t see…

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What follows is a list of my favourite Motown songs ranked from number 40 to number 1. It is not a list of what I regard as the 40 best Motown songs.  These are my favourite Motown songs. The list reflects my personal opinion which may change from time to time.  So you won’t see any songs in this list by The Jackson Five.  Sure, “I Want You Back” is a great song and was hugely successful but I don’t regard it as R & B, nor typical of Motown.  I know that many will disagree.


​Number 40 Someday We’ll be Together – Diana Ross and the Supremes

Diana Ross and The Supremes was the most commercially successful recording act at Motown. Someday We’ll be Together was the last song released by them and it reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 popular singles chart. According to legend, Levi Stubbs of The 4 Tops wandered into the studio and ad-libbed some background vocals. Actually one of the composers of the song, Johnny Bristol was the one doing the adlibs. Although the other Supremes (Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong) did not sing on the record, this was a farewell swansong of a famous and successful group.

Number 39 You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Brenda Holloway

Brenda Holloway had a style reminiscent of Mary Wells. You’ve Made Me So Very Happy was a lovely soulful song which peaked at number 39 in 1967. Two years later, a less soulful but more jazz/pop oriented version by Blood Sweat and Tears was a huge hit.

Number 38 Smiling Faces Sometimes – The Undisputed Truth

This song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and was originally recorded by The Temptations on their “Psychedelic Shack” album. The Undisputed Truth’s version of the song got to Number 3 on Billboard. It was well produced and had biting lyrics of a distrustful sardonic nature “a frown is just a smile turned upside down”. There are several versions of this song but this was the hit version and scrubs up well.

Number 37 My Guy – Mary Wells

This song was written by Smokey Robinson and has a smooth sophisticated feel about it. The lyrics are pure Smokey Robinson …”I stick to my guy like a stamp to a letter, like birds of a feather we…stick together”. This song hit number 1 on Billboard and Mary Wells looked set for a long successful career at Motown. Surprisingly though she quit Motown shortly after the success of My Guy because of contractual issues. She then joined Twentieth Century Fox Records where she was not able to repeat her Motown success.

Number 36 Just My Imagination – The Temptations

This brilliant song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. It was originally a track on The Temptation’s 1971 album “Shy’s the Limit”. Some say that is The Temptations’ best album but I say that can’t be because there was no David Ruffin. Still, Eddie Kendricks did a wonderful job in leading this song.

Number 35 I Was Made To Love Her – Stevie Wonder

This song which was partly written by Stevie Wonder personified pent up excitement right from the opening harmonica strains from Stevie. It was a big hit which contained some unusual lyrics:- “my father disproved it – my mother boo hooed it” The reference in the end to “you know Stevie ain’t gonna leave her” is a reference to himself.

Number 34 What Does It Take to Win Your Love? – Junior Walker and the All Stars

This song is half instrumental, half vocal. It is enormously enhanced by Junior Walker’s gorgeous and stunning saxophone playing.

Number 33 Love is Like an Itching in My Heart – Diana Ross and The Supremes

Some say that the Supremes did not sing “real soul music”. “Baby Love” and “The Happening” could not be described as soul or R & B. On the other hand, Love is Like an Itching in My Heart has a gritty biting R & B sound. Although written by Motown song writing team Holland Dozier and Holland, it was more akin to songs written by them for Martha and the Vandellas. It reached number 9 on Billboard which for The Supremes was regarded as a semi failure.

Number 32 Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

This song is a wonderful duet by the incomparable Marvin Gaye and the rising star Tammi Terrell. It was written by the song writing team of Ashford and Simpson and was a wonderful to and fro chant from lovers expressing their feelings. The chorus/refrain is catchy and iconic. Diana Ross later had a hit version which was heavy on production and melodrama and short on soul. I much prefer the original.

Number 31 It’s the Same Old Song – The 4 Tops

Some regard this as a re-run of the big hit by The 4 Tops “I Can’t Help Myself”. I prefer this song. It was written by Holland Dozier and Holland and is upbeat R & B. The melody which is joyful and fast paced is deceptive as the lyrics are bitter sweet and describe one man’s loneliness after losing his lover.

Number 30 Don’t Mess With Bill – The Marvelettes

This song was written by Smokey Robinson. It has a brooding almost menacing base and organ musical background. Lead singer’s Wanda Young’s husky sexy voice was ideally suited to this song.

Number 29 Since I Lost My Baby – The Temptations

This 1965 song written by Smokey Robinson and Pete Moore was a moderate hit and is underrated by some. It’s a sad song describing the emptiness of losing a lover. Again, the lyrics are pure Smokey Robinson…”the sun is shining, there’s plenty of light, a new day is dawning, sunny and bright, but after I’ve been crying all night, the sun is cold and the new day seems old.” Bob Dylan once described Smokey Robinson as America’s greatest living poet. Quite appropriate. David Ruffin’s lead vocal is masterful.

Number 28 Living for the City – Stevie Wonder

This was originally a track on Stevie’s “Innervisions” album of 1973. It was released as a single and made the top 10 on Billboard. It personifies R & B social commentary at its best and tells the story of a young hopeful African American who comes to New York City full of dreams but gets taken advantage of and finishes up in jail, with his dreams shattered.

Number 27 I Heard It through the Grapevine – Gladys Knight and the Pips

Ask most people who sang this song and they will answer Marvin Gaye. But before Marvin’s version stormed the charts, Gladys Knight and The Pips’s version was released and made it to number 1 on Billboard. The arrangement is different to Marvin Gaye’s version of the song being more upbeat and sung in an aggressive frenetic style.

Number 26 Uptight – Stevie Wonder

This 1965 top ten hit by Stevie Wonder was his first hit single to be co-written by him. It’s exciting, highly danceable and has hit written all over it. The expression “Uptight” was in vogue during that period. When Stevie went into his album phase later on his songs had more depth but few were as fresh or exciting as ‘Uptight’.

Number 25 Where Did Our Love Go? – The Supremes

Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard had been hanging around Motown for a long time trying to have a hit single.  That finally arrived with Where Did Our Love Go? This song is R & B…. just. But it’s a great pop single as was reflected by getting to the top of Billboard and staying there for some weeks. It established The Supremes (as they were then called) as a major recording act. It was written by Holland Dozier and Holland who would go on to write many more hits for The Supremes.

Number 24 Baby I need Your Loving – The 4 Tops

This was written for The 4 Tops by Holland Dozier and Holland and was their first single to make it into the Top 20 on Billboard. It’s been recorded by other artists including Johnny Rivers but nothing comes close to this original version.

Number 23 Please Mr Postman – The Marvelettes

Please Mr Postman was Motown’s first Number 1 single. It doesn’t sound like a typical Motown song and presents more like something from Cameo/Parkway, perhaps sung by a group headed by Dee Dee Sharp. Nothing against The Marvelettes however. This is a great track and was enormously popular. A later version was recorded by The Beatles on their “With the Beatles” album which wasn’t too bad for four white guys from Liverpool, and then by The Carpenters who must have taken Valium before recording their version.

Number 22 Nowhere to Run – Martha and the Vandellas

This was a top 10 hit in 1965 and was written by Holland Dozier and Holland who again proved that they could write gritty R & B. It is one of the best songs by Martha & The Vandellas and was later featured in the movie “Good Morning Vietnam”.

Number 21 I Wish It Would Rain – The Temptations

This was written by Barrett Strong and Roger Penzabene. It deals with a heartbroken man who is expressing his sorrow. David Ruffin’s handling of this song as lead singer is magnificent and the anguish in his voice is palpable. The song was a big hit and yet not long after its release David Ruffin was banished from the group because of in fighting. Although The Temptations recorded great songs after David Ruffin left, their songs with him on lead were always my favourites.

Number 20 You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me – The Miracles

This was a top 10 hit in 1962. How about “I don’t like you, but I love you” as an opening line? Such conflicted lyrics in hit songs weren’t common in 1962. The Beatles made a not too bad version of this song.

Number 19 Does Your Mama Know About Me? – Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers

This was a moderate hit in 1968. Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, as the name suggests, was a Canadian group. The song is very soulful and socially provocative. This was the era of movies like “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” and Does Your Mama Know About Me? posed the same racial questions that American society wrestled with. There’s a nice version of this song by Diana Ross and The Supremes on their “Love Child” album.

Number 18 Money – Barrett Strong

This song was released by Barrett Strong in 1959 and got to number 23 on Billboard. Berry Gordy Jnr, the founder of Motown, was one of the song writers. Barrett Strong played the piano and Brian Holland (of Holland Dozier and Holland fame) played tambourine. This song has been recorded by many artists including The Beatles.

Number 17 You are The Sunshine of My Life – Stevie Wonder

This gorgeous song was originally a track on Stevie Wonder’s 1973 album “Talking Book”. It was released as a single and got to number 1 on Billboard. It showed Stevie’s great breadth of song writing ability, has been recorded by many artists and become a standard.

Number 16 Come See About Me – The Supremes

This Holland, Dozier and Holland composition for The Supremes was their third number 1 hit in a row. It’s about as soulful as The Supremes got and was a very pleasant change after the totally pop “Baby Love”.

Number 15 Your Precious Love – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

Marvin and Tammi were Motown’s most successful duo. This song is less upbeat than some of their other hits but is full of soul and yearning.

Number 14 This Old Heart of Mine – The Isley Brothers

The Isley Brothers previously had hits with “Shout” and the original (and the best) version of “Twist and Shout”. Their stay at Motown was brief but in that time they recorded This Old Heart of Mine which was written by Holland, Dozier and Holland. It was a hit in 1966 and apparently was originally intended for The Supremes. I am not sure why The Isley Brothers left Motown after the success of this song. This Old Heart of Mine has been recorded by several other artists and most notably by Rod Stewart.

Number 13 Heat Wave – Martha and The Vandellas

The song got to number 4 on Billboard and is one of the most exciting, rollicking songs Motown ever released. It was recorded by other artists and there is a nice version in Whoopi Goldberg’s movie “Sister Act”.

Number 12 Shop Around – The Miracles

This song almost became Motown’s second number 1 hit after “Please Mr Postman”. It got to number 2. It’s a good R & B upbeat number with Smokey’s lyrics extorting the boy to “not be sold on the very first one” because “pretty girls come a dime a dozen,” it’s better to “Shop Around”.

Number 11 Fingertips (Parts 1 and 2) – Little Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder was 12 years old when this recording was made. It’s one of the most exciting songs ever recorded. Paul McCartney once said in an interview that when he was growing up the most exciting songs he heard were “What’d I Say?” by Ray Charles and “Fingertips” by Little Stevie Wonder. It was a live recording. It was unusual for live recordings to be successful but this got to number 1. It lacked form and structure and at the end, it appeared that it was finished and Stevie left the stage, changed his mind and returned to sing a short encore. The other musicians were caught out and base player can be heard on the recording yelling out “What key? What Key?”

Number 10 Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye made an album called “Let’s Get it On” from which this track was lifted and released as a single. In the liner notes to the album there is a quote from Marvin Gaye saying “I believe in sex between consenting anybodies” and that’s what this song’s about, sex baby, sex! The opening wah-wah notes that start the song introduce the mood and feel of this great R & B song.

Number 9 Do You Love Me? – The Contours

This song was a top 10 hit in 1962 and was written and produced by Berry Gordy Jnr. The lyrics are hardly Ira Gershwin or Smokey Robinson – “do you love me, now that I can dance?” but in 1962, who cared?! This song is frenetic, aggressive and challenging and the urge to dance is irresistible. A later version by Brian Poole and The Tremloes was awful but The Contours’s version was too in your face for the sensibility of the UK audience or the BBC. Dennis Edwards later left The Contours to join The Temptations, replacing David Ruffin.

Number 8 Papa Was a Rolling Stone – The Temptations

This recording is a superb production. Different members of the Temps are given leads at various phases in the song. The musical backing is at time staccato and at times melodic, dramatic and soulful. This is Motown’s “wall of sound” and is a far cry from “The Way You Do the Things You Do”. Norman Whitfield who produced this song was at the height of his powers.

Number 7 What Becomes of the Broken Hearted? – Jimmy Ruffin

This hit single was recorded by Jimmy Ruffin, brother of David Ruffin. Great voices obviously ran in the family. It has been recorded by many artists and was featured in the movie “Standing in the Shadows of Motown”.

Number 6 I Heard It Through the Grapevine – Marvin Gaye

This song was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong and is one of the most successful records ever released by Motown. Gladys Knight and The Pips had already had a big hit with their version of this song (number 27 on this list) and Marvin Gaye recorded it as a track on his 1968 album “In the Groove”. After being played by disc jockeys it was released as a single in October 1968 and went to number 1 on Billboard where it remained for 7 weeks. It’s a great song which was immeasurably enhanced by Marvin’s spellbinding voice.

Number 5 The Tracks of my Tears – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

This song was written by Smokey Robinson, Pete Moore and Marv Tarplin. It was released in 1965 and was a moderate hit. What’s so special about it? It’s pure wonderful stirring soul music and the lyrics are poetic and heartfelt and in symmetry with the melody. Johnny Rivers had a hit version in 1967 which did not compare favourably with the original. The original was featured in the Academy Award winning movie “Platoon”.

Number 4 The One Who Really Loves You – Mary Wells

This 1962 song was a top 10 hit for Mary Wells. It’s the title song of an album which became Motown’s first top 10 album. But the song was written by Smokey Robinson and arguably at that stage his lyric writing had not quite matured and progressed as would be evident in his later compositions. References to “silly lily” were not very poignant but this song made up in soulful melody what it might have lacked in lyrical content. It was also enhanced by Mary Wells’s wonderful singing and particularly the fade out, which was heartfelt and thrillingly soulful. This song is the essence of soul music.

Number 3 Reach Out, I’ll be There – The 4 Tops

This 1966 song was a number 1 hit for The 4 tops. It was written by Holland Dozier and Holland. It was brilliantly produced and held together by the soaring lead vocals of Levi Stubbs. Phil Spector once described this as Motown doing Dylan but I think that is a difficult comparison to make. This song epitomises strong melodic R & B and is one of Motown’s best ever songs.

Number 2 What’s Going On? – Marvin Gaye

This song produced and partly written by Marvin Gaye includes jazz sounds, gospel and of course R & B. It was Motown’s first real foray into social or political issues (“War” being an earlier example). “We don’t need to escalate – war is not the answer” underlines the message that the artist wished to convey and he did so with his incomparable voice and with the wonderful soulful melody of this outstanding song.

Honourable Mentions

Motown had so many great songs that it’s difficult to restrict a list to 40. Here are some honourable mentions:

  • Dancing in the Streets – Martha and The Vandellas
  • The Tears of a Clown – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
  • I’ll Be There – The Jackson Five
  • Then – The 4 Tops
  • No More Tear Stained Make Up – Martha and The Vandellas
  • Songs in the Key of Life (The whole double album) – Stevie Wonder
  • Destination Anywhere – The Marvelettes
  • You keep Me Hanging On – Diana Ross and The Supremes
  • Baby Baby Don’t Cry – Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
  • Ain’t that Peculiar – Marvin Gaye
  • Ooh Baby Baby – Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
  • What Love Has Joined Together – Mary Wells/The Temptations
  • Put Yourself In My Place – The Elgins
  • Here I am Baby – The Marvelettes
  • Who You Gonna Run To? – The Temptations
  • Hey Love – Stevie Wonder
  • Slow Down Heart – The Temptations
  • It’s a Shame – The Spinners.
  • He’s the one I Love – Mary Wells
  • Ain’t too proud to Beg – The Temptations

Number 1 My Girl – The Temptations

What’s so great about My Girl? It’s a simple song and the lyrics aren’t particularly inspiring. Why is it so iconic? Why number 1 in this list?  It’s written by Smokey Robinson. The lead singer is David Ruffin. The background vocals are harmonious and wonderful. And this song is everything that 1965 was about. That was a more peaceful, simpler time than now although the agonies of the Vietnam War were about to be thrust upon America and the world. I once sang this song on the stage of the Apollo Theatre. Better versions have been sung in that venue and elsewhere. In my opinion, no other song better epitomises the heart and soul of Motown and that is why it is my favourite Motown song.


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