Thursday, April 10, 2008


The One-Car Accident

Mary Wells, Bye Bye Baby.
The Supremes, Buttered Popcorn.

The sound of raw, young America: the debut single of Mary Wells, the first major artist that Berry Gordy's Motown produced, and the second single by The Supremes, who would become Motown's biggest act in the mid-'60s.

Wells' "Bye Bye Baby" is an ocean's remove from the poised, demure sensibilities of "My Guy," her biggest Motown hit--it's early gut-bucket soul, centered on the 17-year-old Wells' wild, harrowed vocal. Wells had decided to write a song for Jackie Wilson and offered it to Gordy--she sang the track (in her imitation of Wilson's style) over two dozen times in the studio until Gordy thought she had got it. The fatigue and desperation carries over into the performance. Along with Barrett Strong's "Money," this is the great early Motown hit--a phenomenal record.

Released in January 1961 as Motown 1003 c/w "Please Forgive Me"; on Ultimate Collection.

"Buttered Popcorn," sung by Florence Ballard, not Diana Ross (see Dreamgirls for the whole story), is far nastier and goofier than anything The Supremes did in their later chart-topping days. (Mary Wilson later said Ballard had to stand 17 feet away from the microphone in the studio, as her voice was so powerful). Flo's guy has a one-track mind--at dinner, she desperately tries to distract him, asking him about what's happening in the news, and he just slavers "more butter! more butter! more butter!"

Written by Gordy and Motown sales executive Barney Ales, "Popcorn" became a hit in Detroit but proved too much for the nation as a whole. While lacks the pop hooks and streamlined feel of the later Supremes records, it's a joy in its own right.

Released in July 1961 as Tamla 54045 c/w "Who's Loving You"; on Anthology or on iTunes.

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