Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Barrett Strong

Barrett Strong The first LP I ever got was The Beatles’ Second Album. One of the tracks was Money (That’s What I Want). I was 7 years old, and I thought that was pretty wild, nestled among all those love songs was a song of what seemed to unmitigated greed, a plain-spoken paean to materialism-on-steroids.

It is 46 years later, and the song amazes me no less. That the original was the kickoff record of what became the Motown empire makes it all the more astounding. The singer and co-writer was Barrett Strong, who, just as amazingly, never had another hit.

After Money, Strong retreated to a strong (sorry) song-writing career; he co-wrote dozens of Motown hits, including I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, War, etc. But the fact that he put the first top 40 record for the company and was heard no more is as indicative of the unusual nature of the company as anything else I can think of.

Barrett Strong

Money (That’s What I Want) – Perhaps this was Berry Gordy’s theme song. It certainly was an auspicious beginning for the Motown empire, though the record itself appeared on the Anna label. (Most Motown records didn’t appear on Motown anyway; Marvin Gaye was on Tamla, Jr. Walker was on Soul, Rare Earth were on Rare Earth.) This song about what the music industry was really all about was recorded by more bands than you can shake a stick at: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Kingsmen, The Flying Lizards, to name (as cliché-ridden writers like to tell us) a few. I guess the temptation to set aside the pretense and sing about what was really close to their hearts was too hard to resist for so many budding millionaires. The song, I needn’t tell you, kicks ass, and Strong’s recording is as good as any, Lennon’s rip-the-heart-out delivery included. From the spring of 1960.

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