MARY WELLS: ‘The Definitive Collection’ (Label: Motown)

  • Home
  • Reviews
  • MARY WELLS: ‘The Definitive Collection’ (Label: Motown)
MARY WELLS: 'The Definitive Collection'

If Mary Wells had stayed with Motown instead of controversially jumping ship to 20th Century Fox at the very zenith of her fame in 1964, her career probably would have panned out differently. But her sense of injustice at what she perceived was an exceedingly unfair royalty percentage in regard to her original Motown contract – which she signed as a minor aged 17 in 1960 – led to a bitter dispute that ended up in the hands of lawyers. Wells eventually triumphed in an acrimonious courtroom battle with Berry Gordy and was allowed to leave Motown – the company also had to make a hefty financial settlement with the singer – and set her sights on the promise of a movie career offered by executives at 20th Century Fox Records. Despite offering a massive financial inducement (reported to be half a million dollars), 20th Century Fox failed to capitalise on Wells’ earlier success and her singles and two albums flopped (it was even rumoured that Motown put pressure on radio stations and retailers to boycott her records). Also, her movie career never took off, despite a miniscule role in the film ‘Catalina Caper.’ By 1966 Wells moved on to Atco and although she made the US R&B Top 10 with ‘Dear Lover’ a sustained period of success similar to that she had experienced at Motown proved elusive and further recording stints at Jubilee, Reprise and Epic failed to yield any substantial chart hits or memorable music. Undoubtedly, then, Mary Wells, did her best work for Motown in a four-year purple patch spanning the years 1960-1964. All the big hits from that timeframe can be found on ‘The Definitive Collection,’ an 18-track retrospective compiled by Harry Weinger to coincide with Motown’s 50th birthday celebrations. Wells’ first hit for Motown was the self-penned, Berry Gordy-helmed ‘Bye Bye Baby’ in late 1960, a robust slice of gutbucket rhythm and blues. Despite cracking the R&B Top 10, it took another seven months to get a follow-up smash (‘I Don’t Want To Take A Chance’). That, too, made the Top 10 but it was Wells’ only hit in ’61. In ’62, everything changed. Wells became the protégé of Miracle man, Smokey Robinson, and recorded his song ‘The One Who Really Loves You.’ With its catchy hook, engaging lyric and cool, finger-snapping beat, it represented a radical change of style and catapulted Wells into the Top 10 of the US pop charts. The next 45, ‘You Beat Me To The Punch’ – another wondrous Robinson-scribed tune – did even better, topping the R&B chart. Its successor was ‘Two Lovers,’ which turned out to be Wells’ biggest US hit. 1963 witnessed a succession of high-achieving chart hits – all included on this compilation, of course – and in 1964 Wells released what would become her most enduring record, ‘My Guy.’ Naturally, given its fame, that particular song kicks off this collection – but as the rest of the performances on this enjoyable album illustrate (including a couple of duets with Marvin Gaye), Mary Wells was no one-trick pony. Both as an introduction to Wells’ music and a snapshot of early Motown, it can’t be beaten (though it has to be said that most Motown aficionados will already have all the tracks). Other CDs in the series focus on music by the Four Tops, The Temptations, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Junior Walker & The All Stars, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Marvelettes, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, and, somewhat curiously, Debarge.
(CW) 4/5