Berry Gordy was slightly notorious for being adverse to seeking outside material for hit songs for his singers. Very rare during the Motown classic hit era were any of the major hits for artists from the pens of someone that wasn’t attached to the Motown Family.
I can only think of two off the top of my head that made the Pop Top 40: “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” from the team of Gamble & Huff, which had been a mild hit twice; once for Dee Dee Warwick and then Madeline Bell, and “When You’re Young & In Love” written by Van McCoy, which missed the Top 40 for Ruby & The Romantics 2 and half years before The Marvelettes had an international hit with the song.
Gordy had been burned in terms of songwriting royalties in the late fifties, so he purposely kept his employees churning out new songs not only for potential singles, but for filler on LPs as well. It made it particularly rare that the roster of Motown singers had to step out of the catalog to fill out their long players, with plenty of popular and unused in-house songs to choose from.
However, every once in a while, be it a dance craze album, a tribute LP, something chock full of standards or mere expediency, an outsourced cover song made its way into the recording studio. Notably the practice was very rare before 1965, so the earlier covers were done by top flight acts. As the label expanded, and demands on the songwriters in-house grew (and two key component writing/production teams jumped ship in 1967), the more covers would fill in on LPs, and sometimes escape as singles for artists both big named and small.
So for fall cuffing season, we have 33 examples of how Motown loved some of the songs not created within the walls of Hitsville U.S.A. It’s really interesting to listen to where Motown adhered rather strictly to the arrangements of the original recordings that are famous, and those moments where they completely started fresh. I hope this is fresh for you.
7) The Velvelettes – I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face (Baby Washington)
12) Jimmy Ruffin – Bless You (Tony Orlando)