Reviewed on this page:
Please Mr. Postman - The Marvelettes -
Sophisticated Soul - Now
Remembered best for "Please Mr. Postman," Motown's first #1 hit, but
there's more to the Marvelettes. At least a little more. They
racked up 5 more hits in 1962, but as Motown rapidly got bigger, the
Marvelettes got smaller. In part this was just bad luck, but they didn't help their own cause with a constantly
shifting lineup, no consistent lead singer, and no really remarkable voices - they're easily the least distinctive of
the Motown acts. Most of the early hits were delivered
by Gladys Horton, and they had a brief mid-decade renaissance when Smokey Robinson started
writing songs expressly for Wanda Young, but by 1970 the hits had run out and Motown pulled the plug.
In the early 70s, Motown apparently sent out imposter Marvelettes on
package tours. More recently, scumbag promoter Larry Marshak (who also
manages fake versions of the Platters, Drifters and Coasters) has
inflicted his own imposter version of the group on unsuspecting
festival-goers. Make sure you're getting "Gladys Horton & the
Marvelettes" before you cough up your hard-earned money.
I have no idea if the group members released any post-Motown work (aside from the 1990 album I have) or solo
projects. Can a Marvelettes fan out there help me?
Katherine Anderson, Juanita Cowart, Georgia
Dobbins, Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Marie Tillman
Dobbins left, 1962, replaced by Wanda Young. Cowart left, 1962.
Tillman (known as Georgia Gordon) left, 1965. Horton left, 1968,
replaced by Anne Bogan. Group disbanded in 1970.
Gordon died, 1980, of sickle cell anemia.
Lineup in 1990: Horton, Young (known as Wanda Rogers), Jackie
Holleman, Regina Holleman.
Please Mr. Postman (1961)
Mostly this is a very conventional girl group record, with high-pitched, occasionally sassy backing vocals,
bubblegum romance lyrics ("Angel"), and an unending series of I-vi-IV-V progressions ("I Know How It Feels") backed by a perfunctory
The one weird element is an electronic keyboard that sounds like an early synthesizer but must be a clavioline or calliope
or something; the damn thing pops up in song after song, either following the chord roots or playing a solo ("I Apologize"),
and taking the whole project into the realm of 50's sci-fi flicks. It's no coincidence that the album's big hit, the
title track co-written by Dobbins (and later covered by the Beatles), is one of the few
tracks that doesn't feature that keyboard sound. Also, "Postman" is sung by the one Marvelette with a deep, powerful voice
(I'm guessing it's Horton), and her features are the album's standouts - everyone else sounds interchangably shrill ("Happy
Days"). If you're looking for early early Motown, this will satisfy your curiosity, but that's about all it'll satisfy.
Much of the songwriting and production is by the "Brianbert" team - Brian Holland and Robert
Bateman - with a great deal of assistance from folks like Berry Gordy, Janie Bradford
and Smokey Robinson.
The Marveletts Sing (1962)
Yes, the group's name was misspelled on the album cover. The single (#34
pop) was the sequel "Twistin' Postman"; other titles include "Mashed Potato
Time," "Love Letters," "The One Who Really Loves You"
(originally cut by Mary Wells), "Twistin' The
Night Away," "Hey Baby," "Good Luck Charm," "Slow Twist,"
"Lover Please" and "Dream Baby." (DBW)
The title track (a hit single co-written by Horton) was Cowart's last recording with the
group. Two other Top Ten R&B hits: "Beechwood 4-5789" (by Marvin Gaye, William Stevenson and George Gordy) and "Someday
Someway" (by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Freddie Gorman). All three songs are standard, reasonably pleasant early
60s bubbblegum. Other tunes include "Mix It Up," "I'm Hooked," "I Think I Can
Change You," "Forever," "Goddess Of Love," "You Should
Know" and "(I've Got To) Cry Over You." (DBW)
The Marvelous Marvelettes (1963)
Holland-Dozier-Gorman's "Strange I Know" (#10 R&B) was the single; the rest of the titles are
"I Forgot About You," "Locking Up My Heart" (by Holland-Dozier-Holland),
"Which Way Did He Go," "Silly Boy," "It's Gonna Take A Lot Of Doing,"
"Smart Aleck," "My Daddy Knows Best," "Too Strong To Be Strung Along"
and "Why Must You Go." (DBW)
Recorded Live on Stage (1963)
A predictable assortment of hits - "Postman," "Beechwood," etc. (DBW)
Greatest Hits (1966)
Apparently the only LP source for three hit singles: Norman Whitfield's "Too Many Fish In The
Sea" (#15 R&B, #25 Pop), Stevenson's "I'll Keep Holding On" (#11 R&B, #34 Pop)
and Smokey Robinson's
"Don't Mess With Bill" (Wanda Young's first lead on a single, it went to #3 R&B, #7 Pop). (DBW)
The Marvelettes (1967)
The two hit singles aren't much: Robinson's "The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game" (#2 R&B, #13 Pop) is stilted lyrically
and melodically, and Van McCoy's "When You're Young And In Love" (#9 R&B, #23 Pop) is just
a corny ballad. But the Motown machine was so good at this point that even the album tracks are consistently
exciting: "He Was Really Saying Somethin'" (originally a Velvettes single) grabs you from the first measure with a savvy guitar/piano hook, spacious
percussion and a bustling bass line; two uptempo tunes, "Keep Off, No Trespassing" and "Barefootin'," overcome obvious
hooks with sheer energy. The fact that the Marvelettes themselves were somewhat lacking in personality
hardly seems to matter. The cover of Bacharach and David's "Message To Michael" is
nothing special; other songs are contributed by everyone from Frank Wilson ("I Can't Turn
Around") to Norm Whitfield ("I Know Better").
Young seems to have all the leads - not coincidentally, this was Horton's last album with the group.
Sophisticated Soul (1968)
Motown always did rely on formulas, but on the better records you either don't notice or don't care. This time the
formulas are not only obvious, but irritating: Robinson seems to have taken primary responsibility for the group, but
all he could come up with was kitsch and remakes. "My Baby Must Be A Magician" (#8 R&B, #17 Pop), sung by Young with a
spoken intro by Melvin Franklin, is the former, with silly guitar effects detracting from an
occasionally clever lyric. "You're The One For Me Bobby" is the latter, a blatant and unsuccessful
attempt to create another "Don't Mess With Bill." Out of his five compositions here, the only one that really works
is the stomping "Here I Am Baby." The other songwriters don't do appreciably better: Ashford
& Simpson contribute a ripoff of "You Keep Me Hangin' On" ("Your Love Can Save
Me") in addition to the fine single "Destination: Anywhere"; Ivy Hunter's "The Stranger" lifts elements from "Get Ready"
and "Reflections"; William Weatherspoon and James Dean hit with the Mary Wells-like "Don't Make
Hurting Me A Habit" but miss with the ballad "Reachin' For Something I Can't Have"; Sylvia Moy and Richard Morris's "Someway Somehow" is as treacly as the title suggests. For trivia buffs:
former Andante Anne Bogan made her debut as a Marvelette singing "I'm Gonna Hold On Long As I Can."
In Full Bloom (1969)
The titles are "Seeing Is Believing," "Sunshine Days," "That's How
Heartaches Are Made," "The Truth's Outside My Door," "I Have Someone
(Who Loves Me Too)," "Uptown," "At Last I See Love As It Really Is,"
"Now Is The Time For Love," "Too Many Tears Too Many Times," "Rainy
Mourning," "Everybody Knows (But You)," "Love Silent Love Deep."
The Return of the Marvelettes (1970)
Apparently the group had broken up by now, and this is really Wanda -
using her married name of Rogers - backed by Motown's house backup
singers, the Andantes. This release includes a healthy number of Motown
remakes: the Supremes' "Someday We'll Be
Together" and "A Breathtaking Guy," the Vandellas' "No More Tear-Stained Makeup." The new
material includes "Marionette" (a flop single), "So I Can Love You,"
"That's How Heartaches Are Made," "After All," "Our Lips Just Seem To
Rhyme Everytime," "Fading Away," "Take Me Where You Go" and "I'll Be In
Horton and Rogers apparently ended up with the band name, and cut this disc of remakes ("Don't Mess With Bill,"
"Beechwood 45-789") plus a batch of new songs co-written by producer Ian Levine ("Used To Be A Playboy"). This
kind of thing is of limited appeal anyway, but Levine makes it
worse by trying to update the Marvelette sound with keyboard bass and loud monotonous drums - they sound
something like a cut-rate 80s-era Pointer Sisters. The beat completely flattens
fast tunes like "Too Many Fish In The Sea," and is just plain bizarre on the ballads ("When You're Young And In Love").
Meanwhile, the "originals" feature note-for-note ripoffs of Janet Jackson's "When
I Think Of You" ("Just In The Nick Of Time") and "My World Is Empty Without You"
("Holding On With Both Hands"). Whoever Levine is, I hope he's ashamed of himself. The saving grace is the Marvelettes
themselves: Horton and Rogers both sing with strength and confidence, far more than the material and production
Wait a minute.