You may or may not know, Motown records in its Golden Years from 1961 through 1968 was a constant hive of activity. The operations worked 24 hours a day each day of the year, some Motown gems were recorded and pressed on major holidays, some efforts saw release on others. Was December 31, 1965 a Tuesday? I’m too lazy to look, but “My World Is Empty Without You” by The Supremes and “Darling Baby” by The Elgins were released to the masses on New Years Eve ’66.
The byproduct of this rigorous production of music, quality control, and an expansive roster of performers jousting for preferred spots for release and promotion means 50 years later there’s a glob of gems that never had the chance to find themselves on any sort of vinyl, whether the topside of an 45, or even an LP track. Here, we look over 20 of the freshest and finest that Motown left behind in 1966.
1) The Marvelettes – Poor Little Rich Girl (June, 1966)
The Marvelettes, although resurgent from the success of “Don’t Mess With Bill,” were still fighting for security, selections and relevance throughout 1966. Internally, Smokey Robinson’s preference and clout of recording Wanda Young as the lead singer, while most other producers still preferred to use Gladys Horton shows in which songs got released as singles for the group that year versus what stayed in the Vault. Completed right after Gladys Horton’s 21st Birthday, this bit of Harvey Fuqua/Johnny Bristol/Sylvia Moy uptown bluster casts Gladys Horton oddly more in a role fit for The Supremes. Although the isolation and rigor alongside the income generation of fame wasn’t alien to The Marvelettes, they weren’t experiencing the levels of riches and the dark side of celebrity isolation as their in-house rivals were.
2)The Spinners – Memories Of Her Love (Keep Haunting Me) (January, 1966)
The Spinners had scored a surprise Top 40 Pop hit with “I’ll Always Love You” at the end of 1965. Although it was a welcome respite from a 4 year dry spell, it was a beautiful post-card sonically to where everyone else at Motown had been since the Fall of ’64. Within that success with the “classic” Motown of ’65 formula, as the next year started, there was a curiosity to expand the direction of where the group would go. This Bongo-Spliced number, still bearing towering horns and huge harmonized backgrounds shows the risks that all Motown producers were taking to innovate for the next year of hits, even if Spinners releases during 1966 took cues, like their 1965 singles, from what was successful for others.
3) Chris Clark – Check Yourself (May, 1966)
Chris Clark, being the 2nd R&B/Pop orientated White Woman signed to Motown, always found herself a little on the outside of the typical Motown Sound during her first 6 months of recording. It took a bit of boss’s urging from Berry Gordy to move her away from being his pet project (and additional mistress) into the arms of other Motown producers. She found herself experimenting quite often with the Motown New York office and freelance producer Mickey Gentile and his wife Jennie Lee Lambert’s efforts. Although this is a cover of an early Temptations single, the Brill Building throw everything-at-the-sink tradition with hints of Burt Bacharach, Shadow Morton and Phil Spector riding the galloping Motown-referencing tempo is the result here.
4) Stevie Wonder – Are You Sure Love Is The Name Of This Game? (November, 1966)
This number is known better done up in a foot stomping “Stop! In The Name Of Love” referencing way by Diana Ross and The Andantes posing as The Supremes 18 months later. Stevie Wonder’s glossy original is decidedly out of step with the tougher, more rugged material he’d be releasing throughout the late 1960’s. It renders itself decidedly as a postcard to the Golden period of the Motown Sound that was rapidly being challenged by new sounds in R&B from Stax and Atlantic in particular, and even on Chicago labels like Chess.
5) Marvin Gaye – Baby I’m Glad Things Worked Out So Well (July, 1966)
Perhaps far too acerbic for Marvin Gaye’s smooth stylish and sophisticated Urban Black Male persona, I think that’s why this Summer of ’66 side works. Marvin performs schadenfreude with a giddy nonchalance that a number of his label mates, regardless of gender, might have rendered cartoonish. The proceedings move along at a less frentic, more confident pace than his singles from this era (notably the beautifully desperate “Take This Heart Of Mine”) that makes the listen to this one of the great lost opportunities of Marvin’s mid-decade career.
6) The Supremes – Mr. Sandman (February, 1966)
The Supremes toured and performed 50 weeks a year alongside recording during their peak 1964-69 period. Most of what was geared to what would become hit singles in 1966 actually got released, so there’s a dearth of actual efforts that would have been potential hit records. The Supremes did excel at cover songs however, and they did breathe fresh air into a number of musty moth-balled efforts from decades past. Their take on The Chordettes 1954 smash was potentially lined up for release on their There’s A Place For Us LP, and then again for their possible Tribute To The Girls LP. Out of all their takes on MOR material outside of their Rodgers & Hart LP, I think this effort stood the most chance of life as a single release on it’s own.
7) The Originals – Suspiscion (April, 1966)
It’s pretty pretty rare that 1) A Prime Holland-Dozier-Holland track would go 2) to a new, relatively unproven group who’s main contribution to the label so far had been providing background vocals for Marvin Gaye and then 3) get shuttered in the vaults. It all seemed like the biggest opportunity to break a new act on the public with a fabulous single, but considering how low The Originals were on the Motown totem pole before Marvin Gaye took an interest in them at the end of 1968, this must have been one of many frustrating moments for the Holland-Dozier-Holland team that would start to poise their resentments towards leaving Motown at the end of 1967.
8) Gladys Knight & The Pips – Here Are The Pieces Of My Broken Heart (August, 1966)
Gladys Knight & her family were one of many bright lights that had been relatively well-known before they signed to Motown in 1965. And unlike the other two ones we’ll get to shortly, their trio of Top 40 Pop hits between 1961-64 didn’t translate into them being a priority for finding a direction or potential hit singles. It took 6 months for their first single to make it out the door, to virtually no promotion. This late summer screamer that allows Gladys to uprate the emotion with each key change in a breathtaking way may have been a bit too raw for Pop crossover success, but points to a pre-“Grapevine” gloss that she could have cleaned up with in a brilliant way.
9) Brenda Holloway – Make Him Come To You (December, 1966)
Brenda Holloway is officially Motown’s Queen of The Basement. I could have done 20 un-released songs for her from 1966 alone. What’s remarkably surprising is that she always had access to the finest of the newest to Motown. Perhaps being equally an outsider as new-to-the-label Husband/Wife duo Nicholas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, she got perhaps THE BEST early effort from the couple for their new home label. Proving that they weren’t here to play second fiddle, and become one of the most important production teams in R&B, they give our queen one of the finest dating manuals, set to cascading and escalating strings arrangements and an auditory landscape loaded with surprises that sets a trap better than “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.”
10) The Four Tops – Lost For Words (May, 1966)
Like The Supremes, most of The Four Tops material that was recorded for Pop Radio consumption saw release during 1966, so it’s rather rare to find hidden gems from them at the height of their career. One reason would be that, like The Supremes, that their efforts were so firmly enmessed with the ability for the Holland-Dozier-Holland team to secure hits for them that there was little reason to stray to other opportunities to allow for the many mighty minds of Motown to produce for them. Smokey however always had a soft spot for giving them a tune or two, more often than not leaving The Andantes out of the proceedings to allow their harmonies to be a “Boys Only” club. This sophisticated ballad gives Levi a chance to actually play less love slave, more suave seducer, and I can’t help but love it.
11) Tammi Terrell – More, More, More (January 1966)
Decidedly sounding like something Tammi Terrell would have released as her first single, this Venusian reveling in delights fits her Taurean temperament to a Tee. Like a number of her solo outings from 1966-67 that got overdubbed for later duet LP filler with Marvin Gaye in the wake of her Brain Tumor decline, it’s so great to hear what she was capable of on her own. Given she wasn’t given any other Solo single releases for the bulk of 1966, even if she had at least 4 efforts in the can that would have made chart entries, I could see this as the giddy follow-up to her much beloved (but vastly underpromoted) “Come On And See Me.”
12) The Isley Brothers – How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) (July, 1966)
This uber-greasy read of Marvin Gaye’s late ’64 classic has equal merit as the Top 20 cover that Jr. Walker scored in 1966 as well. It blends the less prim, more relaxed, and frankly less white appeasing nature of Walker’s faux-live cover with the laid back, sexy and swinging nature of the original hit. Also, light years less toxic than James Taylor’s cover…
13) The Temptations – I’ve Got Heaven Right Here On Earth (October, 1966. Final Mix done 1968)
The Temptations, despite equal prominence as The Four Tops and Supremes in terms of releasing content, have more efforts left behind in the vaults due to the rivalry between Norman Whitfield, their all of a sudden successful producer, and their old slawart Smokey Robinson still producing efforts for them. Wanting to do a far more danceable, lively take on the “My Girl” theme for potential release, Norman works with Eddie Kendricks, an underrated presence on both sides of the booth for his group, while borrowing tricks from Eddie Holland as well for this glider that could have done magic for the group if it saw release.
14) Kim Weston – Your Wonderful, Sweet Sweet Love (October, 1966)
Kim Weston was basically almost out the door with husband Mickey Stevenson when Smokey Robinson decided to lay down this future-funky number with her (alongside a few other tracks that would never see the light of day). I’m sure, despite a brilliant performance that inspired fellow Sagittarius Jean Terrell, no doubt, when it became a Supremes effort 6 years later, Kim Weston wouldn’t have been THAT thrilled with being this proto-funk Princess considering the content of her shiny new For The First Time LP that emerged from MGM during the first months of 1967. Tough, decidedly un-Motown, and almost like nothing within the scope of Black Music in 1966, this is one of the most truly wasted in the vaults gems. It’s not a surprise that the note-for-note Supremes version did so well in 1972.
15) Martha & The Vandellas – It’s Easy To Fall In Love With A Guy Like You (August, 1966)
Out of all of these unreleased numbers, this Martha Reeves, most likely solo with The Andantes behind her effort has sort of become a “hit” when it finally was released. After being featured on the first Cellarful of Motown collection, it got life as a prime song on the soundtrack for the Will Smith Rom-Com feature Hitch. A softer, Frank Wilson fielded effort in the same vein as their blockbuster R&B hit “My Baby Loves Me,” it actually seems like the appropriate soft prayer of a single that *could* have existed in the valley between “I’m Ready For Love” and “Jimmy Mack.”
16) The Miracles – My Business, Your Pleasure (May, 1966)
Between producing, writing and being Vice President of Motown, you might wonder how in the hell is there any “left over” Smokey and The Miracles efforts. Well, behold this romantic, almost stalker-y effort that managed to find no life on a single or LP during 1966 or beyond. Charming, playful and fluffy like a Kitten, it seems the perfect scoop of auditory Ice Cream that could have been a middle of 1966 hit for the group.
17) Barbara McNair – The Harder You Fall (The Deeper The Feeling) (August, 1966)
It seems that Motown couldn’t really decide whether to hone in on Barbara McNair’s Broadway roots and continue her prediliction towards stale standards or make her the most mature Madame of the Motown Sound. This is one of the rare efforts that does a fairly decent job of covering both bases for her, not being resolutely Motown but not being as crusty as her covers of “Message To Michael” other mainstream efforts. It’s curious to whether hit singles were ever the goal for Barbara McNair, because she was at her most “real” when she got down with the Motown sound.
18) The Monitors – Doctor Of Love (May, 1966)
More of The Monitors efforts focus on Richard Street’s tenor, but Sandra Fagin’s Soprano shouldn’t be ignored as a solid force in The Monitor’s talents. This wispy late spring paean to Cupid’s powers as a Medical Professional decidedly had merit in the haphazard output of the group. Like the Tammi Terrell and Stevie Wonder efforts, it shines as a postcard to the recent past of The Motown Sound, reminding us of the sweet charms of 1964-65 while soothing the transition to more frentic sounds.
19) The Velvelettes – A Love So Deep Inside (January, 1966)
The Velvelettes ushered in the more urgent Motown sound with their Norman Whitfield hits in the Fall of ’64, so it’s no surprise that they were doing war calls in the same vein, as Motown tried continuously to get all the gold out of a trend before moving on to the place to pan from. While it might have stood pat in terms of internal productions, it sounds so fresh compared to the staid imitations of The Motown sound that were burbling up on the airwaves at the time. And who can miss out on Carolyn Gill’s glee? Towering backgrounds from her family and friends put a pretty bow on passions that could power all of Detroit on the megawattage of this production.
20) The Marvelettes – I Hope You Have Better Luck Than I Did (June, 1966)
We end where we begin, Gladys Horton contemplating her future, still as the favored lead singer by every other producer at Motown other than the man who was currently bringing the group hit records. Here we have Holland-Dozier-Holland giving us a glimpse of a future at Motown both them and Gladys wouldn’t enjoy, as they both departed the Motown machine by the end of 1967. Here we have wise, sophisticated and the fully adult Gladys Horton still in control of her destiny as she always had been since “Please Mr. Postman” yet fully disillusioned by the game of love. It’s a fitting kiss off to the potentials that were hidden away in the Motown Machine.