Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Tagged: Motown

Shop Around

First recorded by The Miracles (first recording released September 1960).
Hit versions by The Miracles (re-recording released October 1960 US #2/R&B #1/CAN #11), Captain & Tennille (US #4/MOR #1/CAN #4 1976).

From the wiki: “The original record label for ‘Shop Around’ credits Bill ‘Smokey’ Robinson as the writer, with Motown founder Berry Gordy as producer. Robinson claims he wrote the song ‘in thirty minutes’ and that it had been intended originally for another Motown singer, Barrett Strong (‘Money (That’s What I Want)‘), but that Gordy thought the song was more suited to the Miracles. Subsequent labels list both Robinson and Gordy as co-writers.

“‘Shop Around’ was initially released (as Tamla 53034) locally, in Detroit and the surrounding area, but not intentionally. Motown’s history of the song relates that after the first pressings were distributed to radio stations and record stores ‘in September 1960, [Gordy] couldn’t sleep, worried that it wasn’t good enough (‘too slow, not enough life’). He called Smokey in the middle of the night, and had him bring all the Miracles to the studio at 3 a.m. to lay down a new, slightly faster take of the song. Gordy himself played piano.’

Hey Harmonica Man

First recorded by Jo Jo Wail & the Somethings (1963).
Hit version by Stevie Wonder (US #29/R&B #5 1964).

From the wiki: “‘Hey Harmonica Man’ was written by Marty Cooper and Lou Josie, and was first recorded in 1963 by Jo Jo Wail & the Somethings. It would be covered by Stevie Wonder in 1964.

“Wonder has poured scorn on his pre-’65 Motown output; whenever he’s asked about these records, he seems to lump them all together as a collection of ‘juvenilia’. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s ‘Hey Harmonica Man’ for which he reserves particular criticism, describing it on more than one occasion as ’embarrassing’.

The Motown Song

Written and first recorded by Larry John McNally (1986).
Hit version by Rod Stewart ft. The Temptations (US #10/MOR #3/UK #10 1991).

From the wiki: “‘The Motown Song’ was written by Larry John McNally and was originally recorded by McNally in 1986 for the Quicksilver movie soundtrack. In 1991, Rod Stewart covered ‘The Motown Song’ with the Temptations, for Stewart’s album Vagabond Heart.”

Do You Know Where You’re Going To?

First recorded by Thelma Houston (1973).
Hit version by Diana Ross (US #1/R&B #14/UK #5/CAN #4 1975).

From the wiki: “‘Do You Know Where You’re Going To’ was written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin (‘You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman‘, ‘Up on the Roof‘), and was first recorded in 1973 by Thelma Houston for a New Zealand-only single release (Tamla Motown 872). In 1975, the song was repurposed by Masser and used as the theme to the movie Mahogany. Sung in the film by Diana Ross, it became one of the most recognizable elements of the film. The song topped the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1975, and was also nominated for the 1975 Academy Award for Best Original Song.”

More Love

First recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (US #23/R&B #13 1967).
Other hit version by Kim Carnes (US #10/MOR #6 1980).

From “In the book Where Did Our Love Go?: The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound, Smokey Robinson explained that he wrote ‘More Love’ for his wife Claudette, and it’s one of his most personal songs. Claudette had a series of miscarriages and gave birth to twins who were stillborn. She felt like she was letting Smokey down, and he wrote this song to let her know how he felt. ‘I wanted to reassure her that I was cool no matter what happened, because I still had her,’ Robinson explained. Claudette had left The Miracles a few years earlier, but she returned to sing backup on this track.

Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)

First recorded by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds (1972).
Hit version by The Four Tops (US #4/R&B #2 1973).

From the wiki: “‘Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)’ was written by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter who first joined Talent Associates in 1970 as producers and songwriters, and were responsible for many of that label’s hits, including Original Caste’s ‘One Tin Soldier‘, and hits by Seals & Crofts. After leaving Talent Associates for ABC-Dunhill, Lambert and Potter wrote for Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds (‘Don’t Pull Your Love’) or produced several of ABC’s hits including Glen Campbell’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy‘ in 1975. The Lambert-Potter-composed ‘Ain’t No Woman’ was first recorded in 1972 by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds and released on their album, Hallway Symphony.

Here I Am, Baby

First recorded by Barbara McNair (1966).
Hit version by The Marvelettes (US #44/R&B #14 1967).

From the wiki: “‘Here I Am, Baby’ was written by Smokey Robinson in 1967 for actress and singer Barbara McNair (‘For Once in My Life‘). It was the title track of her album Here I Am. McNair’s big career break had come in the late 1950s with a win on Arthur Godfrey’s TV show Talent Scouts, which led to bookings at The Purple Onion and the Cocoanut Grove. She soon became one of the country’s most popular headliners and a guest on such television variety shows as The Steve Allen Show, Hullabaloo, The Bell Telephone Hour, and The Hollywood Palace, while recording for the Coral, Signature, Motown, and other labels. But, she became best-known as a TV actress guesting on series such as Dr. Kildare, The Eleventh Hour, I Spy, Mission: Impossible, Hogan’s Heroes and McMillan and Wife.

Smiling Faces Sometimes

Originally recorded by The Temptations (1971).
Hit version by The Undisputed Truth (US #3/R&B #2/MOR #34 1971)
Also recorded by Bobbi Humphrey (1972), Rare Earth (1973).

From the wiki: “‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’ was written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and was originally recorded by the Temptations in 1971. Producer Whitfield had the song re-recorded by the Undisputed Truth the same year, resulting in a Top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hit for the group – their only one.

Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)

Originally recorded by Marvin Gaye (1963).
Hit version by Paul Young (US #70/UK #1 1983).

From the wiki: “‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’ is a song written by Marvin Gaye, Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, and first recorded by Gaye in 1962 as an album track on That Stubborn Kinda Fellow. Years later, Paul Young’s version of the song was a UK #1 single for three weeks in July 1983. The song fared less well on the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at #70, but was later used in the 1986 film Ruthless People and its accompanying soundtrack album.”

Step by Step

First recorded by The Superiors (1987).
Hit version by New Kids on the Block (US #1/UK #2/CAN #1/1990).

From the wiki: “‘Step by Step’ was written by Maurice Starr, discoverer of The New Edition (1982) and New Kids on the Block (1984), and was originally recorded by one of Starr’s later group creations, The Superiors. ‘Step by Step’ was released as a Motown single in 1987 with no apparent chart impact.

Come See About Me

First single release by Nella Dodds (US #74 1964).
Hit versions by The Supremes (US #1/R&B #2/UK #27 1964), Jr. Walker & The All Stars (US #24/R&B #8 1967), Shakin’ Stevens (UK #24 1987).
Also recorded by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels (1966).

From the wiki: “The Supremes’ recording of ‘Come See About Me’ was recorded on July 13, 1964 during the sessions that produced the album Where Did Our Love Go, released in August 1964. But, the release of ‘Come See About Me’ as a promotional single was held back while the album’s first two singles, ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ and ‘Baby Love’, charted.

“However, when 14-year old Nella Dodds’ Wand Records cover recording – a production precursor of what would eventually evolve into Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff’s classic 1970s ‘Philly Sound’ – was released as a single in October 1964 and entered the Billboard Hot 100 in early November, the Supremes’ version was then rushed into release and quickly passed Dodds’ single on its way to #1.

Devil with the Blue Dress

Co-written and originally recorded by Shorty Long (1964).
Hit version (as “Devil with the Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly”) by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels (US #4 1966).

From the wiki: “‘Devil with the Blue Dress On’ (also known as ‘Devil with a Blue Dress On’) was a song written by Shorty Long and William ‘Mickey’ Stevenson, first performed by Long (as a slow jam) and released as Shorty Long’s debut single on Motown in 1964 but the single failed to chart. Two years later, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels covered the song as a medley with a cover of Little Richard’s ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’. The Wheels’ version was notably more up-tempo than Long’s more blues-influenced rendition. Reaching #4 on the Hot 100, the Wheels’ track would end up becoming the group’s most well-known and highest-charting hit in the United States.

I Heard It Through the Grapevine

First recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (1966, released 1968).
Hit versions by Gladys Knight & the Pips (US #2/R&B #1 1967), Marvin Gaye (US #1/R&B #1/CAN #8/UK #1/IRE #7 1968), Creedence Clearwater Revival (US #43/CAN #76 1976).

From the wiki: “First recorded by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles in 1966, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ was rejected for release by Motown owner Berry Gordy, who told Barrett Strong (co-writer) and Norman Whitfield (producer and co-writer) that the song was ‘too bluesy’ and that it lacked ‘hit potential’. Whitfield produced another version, with Marvin Gaye, in 1967 with Gordy also rejected (‘It sucks’, he is reported to have opined) for release. Even the Isley Brothers are said to have taken a crack at it (see below).


First recorded by The Temptations (recorded 1969, released 1970).
Hit version by Edwin Starr (US #1/UK #3/CAN #1/GER #9 1970).

From the wiki: “‘War’ is a counterculture era soul song written by the songwriting team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong (‘Smiling Faces Sometimes‘, ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine‘, ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone‘), and produced by Whitfield, for the Motown label in 1969.

“Whitfield first produced the song – a blatant anti-Vietnam War protest – with The Temptations as the original vocalists. Whitfield re-recorded the song with Edwin Starr as the vocalist, when Motown decided to withhold The Temptations’ version from single release so as not to alienate their more conservative fans.

Money (That’s What I Want)

Originally recorded by Barrett Strong (US #23/R&B #2 1959).
Other hit versions by Jennel Hawkins (R&B #17 1962), The Beatles (1963), Bern Elliot & the Fenmen (UK #14 1963), The Kingsmen (US #16/R&B #6 1964), The Flying Lizards (1979 UK #5/US #50).

From the wiki: “The song was written by Tamla founder Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, and became the first hit record for Gordy’s Motown enterprise. The record was first released on the Anna label (operated by Gwen Gordy, Anna Gordy and Billy ‘Roquel’ Davis). Gwen and Anna’s brother Berry Gordy had just established his Tamla label (soon Motown would follow), and he licensed the song to the Anna label in 1960 to take advantage of its national distribution arrangement with Chicago-based Chess Records in order to meet demand.

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me

First recorded by Dee Dee Warwick (US #88/R&B #13 1966).
Also recorded by Jerry Butler (1967), Jay & the Techniques (1968).
Hit versions by Madeline Bell (US #26/R&B #32 1968), Diana Ross & The Supremes with The Temptations (US #2/R&B #2/UK #3 1968).

From the wiki: “Written by Philly Soul songwriters Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff (‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, ‘Love Train’, ‘Now That We Found Love‘), and producer Jerry Ross (‘Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie‘, ‘Sunny‘), ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ was originally a Top-20 R&B hit for Dee Dee Warwick in 1966. It was released as the follow-up single to her Top-10 hit ‘I Want To Be With You’. Co-writer Ross produced the track while Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson provided background vocals. Warwick’s recording reached #13 R&B and crossed over to the Billboard Top 100 in December 1966.

That’s the Way Love Is

Originally recorded by The Isley Brothers (US #125 1967).
Hit version by Marvin Gaye (US #7/R&B #2 1969).

From the wiki: “Co-writer Norman Whitfield produced both recording sessions for Motown, taking his up-tempo Isley Brothers arrangement and turning it into a slowed-down psychedelic Soul opus for Marvin Gaye.”

For Once in My Life

First recorded (as a demo) in 1965 and first released by Jean DuShon (Oct 1966).
Also recorded by Connie Haines (1965), Barbara McNair (released Nov 1966), The Four Tops (1967), The Temptations (1967).
Hit versions by Tony Bennett (US #91/EZ #8 1967), Stevie Wonder (US #2/R&B #2 1968).

From the wiki: “‘For Once in My Life’, written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden, was originally recorded by Jean DuShon, tapped by Miller to demo ‘For Once in My Life’ as he was ‘fine-tuning’ the composition. Miller was so impressed by DuShon’s rendition he released her recording as a single on Chess Records’ Cadet label in 1966.

“Motown CEO Berry Gordy found out that Miller, a Motown staff writer, had given the song to an outside artist. Gordy had Miller immediately make the song available for Motown artist Connie Haines, who recorded the first version of the song at the label in July 1965 and, then, Barbara McNair to record (in 1966) and, later, for the Four Tops, the Temptations and, later, Stevie Wonder to record.

Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone

First recorded by The Undisputed Truth (US #63/R&B #24 1971).
Other hit versions by The Temptations (US #1/R&B #5/UK #14/CAN #12/NZ #6 1972), Bill “Wolf” Wolfer (US #55/R&B #47 1982), (Was (Not Was) (R&B #60/UK #11/NETH #13/SWZ #6 1990).

From the wiki: “‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ is a psychedelic Soul song, written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield (‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine‘)and Barrett Strong (‘Money (That’s What I Want)‘), and first recorded in 1971 for Motown by The Undisputed Truth. (This version of ‘Papa’ was released as a single in early 1972, where it peaked at #63 on the pop charts and #24 on the R&B charts.

Someday We’ll Be Together

First recorded by Johnny & Jackey (1961).
Hit versions by Diana Ross & The Supremes (US #1/R&B #1/CAN #3/UK #13/IRE #19 1969), Bert Kaempfert (MOR #27 1970), Bill Anderson & Jan Howard (C&W #4 1970).

From the wiki: “‘Someday We’ll Be Together’ was written by Johnny Bristol, Jackey Beavers, and Harvey Fuqua in 1961. Bristol and Beavers recorded the song together, as ‘Johnny & Jackey’, for the Tri-Phi label that same year, becoming a moderate success in the Midwestern United States but gaining little attention elsewhere.

“Tri-Phi would then be purchased by Motown in the mid-1960s. Fuqua, Bristol, and Beavers all then joined Berry Gordy’s famous Motown record company and, as a result, ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’ became part of Motown’s Jobete publishing catalog.

“In 1969, Bristol was preparing an instrumental cover version of ‘Someday We’ll Be Together’, to be recorded by Motown act Jr. Walker & the All-Stars. He had already recorded the basic instrumental track and background vocals (by Maxine and Julia Waters) when Berry Gordy happened upon the tracks and heard them and thought that ‘Someday …’ would be the perfect vehicle for Diana Ross’ anticipated exit from the Supremes. Gordy had Bristol quickly sequester Ross into the studio to record her vocal over the instrumental track intended for Jr. Walker.

You’ve Made Me So Very Happy

Co-written and originally recorded by Brenda Holloway (US #39/R&B #40 1967).
Other hit version by Blood, Sweat & Tears (US #2/MOR #18/R&B #46/CAN #1/UK #35/AUS #14 1969).

From the wiki: “By 1967, Brenda Holloway had been recording for Motown Records since 1964 and had struggled with Berry Gordy over control of her music, alleging that Gordy had forced her to sing Mary Wells’ ‘leftover tracks’ after the Motown singer left the label in 1964. Along with her sister Patrice, using music provided by Frank Wilson and with additional help from Gordy himself, Holloway co-wrote ‘You’ve Made Me So Very Happy.’ Coincidentally, Holloway recorded the song after a breakup with a boyfriend.

Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)

Co-written and first recorded by Eddie Holland (1964).
Hit versions by Kim Weston (US #50/R&B #4 1965), The Isley Brothers (R&B #22 1967), The Doobie Brothers (US #11/UK #29 1975), Charity Brown (CAN #5 1975).

From the wiki: “Eddie Holland, of the legendary Motown songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland (‘Leaving Here‘), co-wrote and recorded the original version of ‘Take Me in Your Arms’ in 1964. (Holland’s recording was not released commercially until 2005.) Holland quit performing due to stage fright, opting instead to concentrate on songwriting. Holland-Dozier-Holland were responsible for such mega hits as ‘Baby, I Need Your Loving’, ‘Heat Wave’, ‘Baby Love’, ‘This Old Heart of Mine’ and scores of others.