11 Songs, 28 Minutes

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.”

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