11 Songs

EDITORS’ NOTES

The Marvelettes' debut single, 1961’s “Please Mr. Postman,” was the first Motown song to hit No. 1. It’s an R&B-soul/doo-wop classic, to be sure, but a closer listen reveals just how lead singer Gladys Horton’s scorching lead vocal was an obvious influence on John Lennon’s early style, both his delivery and phrasing. And she was all of 16 when she recorded the song! One can’t overlook the sadness in the lyrics, about a girl waiting for a letter from her boyfriend who's off at war. Then there’s Marvin Gaye’s able, simple-beat drumming and Funk Brother James Jamerson’s dancing basslines. That stuff is inescapable. All 11 songs here are similar masterpieces, and each was an A-side hit single. The cautionary “Playboy” features another scary-soulful Horton vocal atop a relentlessly pounding piano. The Norman Whitfield–produced “Too Many Fish in the Sea” shows how beautifully arranged trade-off vocals can work, and the girl group’s 1966 comeback song—Smokey Robinson’s “Don’t Mess with Bill”—sports one of the best, if not shortest, sax solos ever put down. Robinson also wrote and produced the tender, Wanda Rogers–sung “My Baby Must Be a Magician.”

EDITORS’ NOTES

The Marvelettes' debut single, 1961’s “Please Mr. Postman,” was the first Motown song to hit No. 1. It’s an R&B-soul/doo-wop classic, to be sure, but a closer listen reveals just how lead singer Gladys Horton’s scorching lead vocal was an obvious influence on John Lennon’s early style, both his delivery and phrasing. And she was all of 16 when she recorded the song! One can’t overlook the sadness in the lyrics, about a girl waiting for a letter from her boyfriend who's off at war. Then there’s Marvin Gaye’s able, simple-beat drumming and Funk Brother James Jamerson’s dancing basslines. That stuff is inescapable. All 11 songs here are similar masterpieces, and each was an A-side hit single. The cautionary “Playboy” features another scary-soulful Horton vocal atop a relentlessly pounding piano. The Norman Whitfield–produced “Too Many Fish in the Sea” shows how beautifully arranged trade-off vocals can work, and the girl group’s 1966 comeback song—Smokey Robinson’s “Don’t Mess with Bill”—sports one of the best, if not shortest, sax solos ever put down. Robinson also wrote and produced the tender, Wanda Rogers–sung “My Baby Must Be a Magician.”

TITLE TIME
2:31
2:48
2:12
2:25
2:30
2:23
2:33
2:53
3:11
2:39
2:33

About The Marvelettes

Probably the most pop-oriented of Motown's major female acts, the Marvelettes didn't project as strong an identity as the Supremes, Mary Wells, or Martha Reeves, but recorded quite a few hits, including Motown's first number one single, "Please Mr. Postman" (1961). "Postman," as well as other chirpy early-'60s hits like "Playboy," "Twistin' Postman," and "Beechwood 4-5789," were the label's purest girl group efforts. Featuring two strong lead singers, Gladys Horton and Wanda Young, the Marvelettes went through five different lineups, but maintained a high standard on their recordings. After a few years, they moved from girl group sounds to up-tempo and mid-tempo numbers that were more characteristic of Motown's production line. They received no small help from Smokey Robinson, who produced and wrote many of their singles; Holland-Dozier-Holland, Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Marvin Gaye, and Ashford-Simpson also got involved with the songwriting and production at various points. After the mid-'60s Wanda Young assumed most of the lead vocal duties; Gladys Horton departed from the group in the late '60s. While the Marvelettes didn't cut as many monster smashes as most of their Motown peers after the early '60s, they did periodically surface with classic hits like "Too Many Fish in the Sea," "Don't Mess With Bill," and "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game." There were also plenty of fine minor hits and misses, like 1965's "I'll Keep Holding On," which is just as memorable as the well-known Motown chart-toppers of the era. The group quietly disbanded in the early '70s after several years without a major hit. ~ Richie Unterberger

  • ORIGIN
    Inkster, MI
  • FORMED
    1960

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