(Released in the UK under license through London Records)
Here we are, then, right at the (official) beginning. Little-known local singer Marv Johnson had the honour of being Motown’s foundation stone, in more ways than one, even if the significance of the moment wasn’t realised at the time.
Johnson had just turned twenty and was a keen songwriter with one local single release already under his belt (some accounts, including the liner notes for The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1, credit Berry Gordy Jr. as having been the producer of that single, My-Baby-O on Kudo Records).
Whatever the story, Marv certainly caught Gordy’s attention, so much that he was chosen to cut the very first single for Gordy’s new label venture. The song selected was one of Johnson’s original numbers, which Gordy polished up and revised to get it ready for release.
Berry Gordy’s judgement turned out, as it often did, to have been sound – Come To Me was a local hit, in turn catching the attention of United Artists. Gordy didn’t have the money to fulfil the massive orders that would come with a hit record, never mind the marketing power and muscle to effectively promote such a hit, and Tamla’s local distribution deal was ineffectual at best. Therefore, he was receptive to UA’s approaches; UA bought out Johnson’s contract (along with that of fellow Tamla artiste Eddie Holland, of whom more later) and re-released Come To Me nationally, whereupon it became a Top 30 pop hit (and went Top 10 R&B, an impressive first-time-out bullseye on Gordy’s part).
The financial reward from this shrewd bit of business kept Motown afloat in the shaky early days, thus providing the bedrock upon which all future Motown releases were built. Not bad for a record whose lack of distributor “oomph” supposedly had Gordy and Smokey Robinson driving around the Detroit area in the middle of winter, hand-delivering copies to stores.
It’s notable not just for the historical quirk of it being The First Motown Record, but also because it features a number of key future Motown players, who were there right from the start: Brian Holland, later producing and songwriting superstar, on backup vocals as one of the Rayber Voices; several future key Funk Brothers in James Jamerson, Benny Benjamin, Eddie Willis, Joe Messina and Thomas “Beans” Bowles (who had himself been the bandleader for Johnson’s previous single on Kudo); two of the Satintones, Motown’s first group signing, including future early Motown songwriter/producer Robert Bateman; and Gordy’s wife Raynoma Liles, a.k.a. “Miss Ray”. Quite a supporting cast. (Marv himself went on to have a string of hits throughout the early Sixties on UA, several of them produced by Gordy, before returning to the Motown fold in 1965.)
Yes, yes, fine, all very well, you say, but you can read that stuff anywhere. What about the record itself?
Well, after I box your ears for impertinence, I’d say it’s pretty good, but not particularly outstanding; it’s an upbeat, fairly generic R&B number with shades of doo-wop, energetically played and sung well enough by Johnson, but lacking any real hook. Its most memorable features are Marv’s striking falsetto “weeeeeell-oh-o-baby” intro, and a busting flute solo by Beans Bowles which crops up without warning about halfway through; but it doesn’t really stick in the mind. It’s fun enough while it’s playing, but there isn’t really a chorus to speak of, and despite having heard it forty or fifty times, I’m still not sure I could sing it back to you right now if you asked me. I mean, I probably could, but I wouldn’t want to put money on it, you know? Anyway.
Certainly anyone looking for the birth of the “Motown sound” will come away disappointed – that wouldn’t really develop for another three or four years, when Jamerson and Benjamin really got their pop/soul/R&B groove on, and the writers, producers and performers had all matured and developed. This is just a Fifties R&B record, no more and no less.
Still, it’s not actually *bad*, not by any means – it’s a “grower”, if anything – but Come To Me is an Important Record rather than a classic single. People will always want to seek it out, but the reason for that is because of its historic value, rather than its musical merits. A decent enough start, but there was considerably better to come, even in that shaky, uncertain first year.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- Mary Wells (October 1961)
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