The musician at the heart of Motown signatures “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”


  • First hit: “Money (That’s What I Want)”
  • Biggest hit: “Money (That’s What I Want)”
  • Top Song: Co-writer of Motown’s first Grammy® winner, “Cloud Nine”
  • Career Highlight: Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004
  • Barrett Strong - MoneyAt age 18, Barrett Strong delivers the performance of his life with 1959’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” helping to finance Berry Gordy’s young business with a national hit: No. 2 on the R&B charts and Top 30 on the pop listings. The song is written by Gordy and protégé Janie Bradford; Strong sings and pounds the piano. “Money” soon inspires others, not least The Beatles, who add the song to their stage set as soon as they hear it, and later play it during their first major-label audition. As well as The Beatles, many others make “Money” over the years, including The Rolling Stones, The Kingsmen, The Doors, Little Richard, Cheap Trick and Pearl Jam. In 1979, Britain’s Flying Lizards take the tune back to the best-sellers on both sides of the Atlantic, including the U.K. Top 5.
  • Born February 5, 1941 in West Point, Mississippi, Barrett is raised in Detroit and gravitates towards music, learning to sing and play piano.  Talent runs in the family:  he is cousin to Nolan Strong of the Diablos, whose ethereal vocal style (recorded by Detroit’s own Fortune Records) is revered by Smokey Robinson and Eddie Kendricks, among others.  Barrett emulates his own hero, Ray Charles, with a band at the city’s Dairy Workers Hall, and performs with his siblings in The Strong Sisters.  Superstar Jackie Wilson hears Barrett, and introduces him to Berry Gordy.  In April 1959, “Let’s Rock” is Strong’s first release on still-new Tamla Records, followed in August by “Money.”  This hits the charts when leased to the Anna label, nationally distributed by bigtime Chess Records.
  • tcms vol 1There are several Barrett follow-ups on Tamla, including “Money And Me,” but none is a hit. He quits Motown, exchanging Detroit for Philadelphia and Chicago, composing and/or recording for Atco, Cameo-Parkway and VeeJay. At the latter, he joins the A&R staff and co-writes the Dells’ biggest hit, “Stay In My Corner.” Barrett also becomes acquainted with OKeh Records’ producer, Carl Davis, and creates songs for The Artistics and Marvin Smith.
  • In 1966, Barrett returns to Motown as a songwriter, and a prolific partnership with producer Norman Whitfield yields some of the company’s most popular copyrights.  They include “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” a success first for Gladys Knight & The Pips in ’67, then – with seven weeks at No. 1 – for Marvin Gaye in 1968-69.  “We mostly came up with the music,” Barrett once recalled about his work with Whitfield.  “The melody first…then we’d sit down with the track.  Because I play keyboards, I sort of had the bassline and [for “Grapevine”] the title.  We just went from there.”
  • Another Strong/Whitfield collaboration in 1968 captures Motown’s first Grammy® award, for “Cloud Nine” by The Temptations.  The group becomes the perfect vehicle for the songwriters’ output, including “I Can’t Get Next To You,” “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today),” “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” and “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.”  The last of these takes three 1972 Grammy® statuettes, including Best R&B Song.
  • In 1973, Barrett again leaves Motown, and returns to singing.  He records for several companies over the next dozen years, even recutting “Money” for the Capitol label, then rekindles his relationship with the Dells.  But songs are his primary asset, including new interpretations of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” such as Roger Troutman’s 1981 R&B No. 1 and the California Raisins’ inescapable 1987 TV commercial.  During the ’90s, Barrett performs his work at songwriter showcases in New York.  In the new century, he mentors Detroit blues singer Eliza Neals, for whom he also composes fresh material.  The “Money” man never stops.

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Barrett Strong: Essential

Barrett Strong: Ess ...

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