TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Peaks at No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending Saturday, October 13, 1979.
SONGWRITERS: Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, Edward Holland Jr.
PRODUCERS: Jeffrey Bowen, Berry Gordy.
BACKSTORY: Probably the single best-known member of the Pointer Sisters – four singing siblings from Oakland, California, whose first major hit was an R&B chart-topper, “How Long (Betcha’ Got A Chick On The Side)” in 1975 – Bonnie has had a notable career, musically and personally. She was part of the quartet’s initial success, which included a Grammy win for Best Country Vocal Performance (Duo or Group) with “Fairytale” in 1974; they beat the likes of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson to gain the prize. Three years later, Bonnie and Anita wrote “Bring Your Sweet Stuff Home To Me” with Stevie Wonder, recording it with him for their 1977 album, Having A Party. Bonnie then went solo, just before her sisters enjoyed a string of Top 10 pop hits from 1979-85, including “Fire” and “He’s So Shy.”
“Heaven Must Have Sent You” has had newsworthy moments of its own, as part of the legacy of Motown’s most celebrated songwriting trio, Holland/Dozier/Holland. The song was said to have been intended for the Supremes during their remarkable run of mid 1960s hits, but one of Motown’s other groups, the Elgins, recorded “Heaven” first in 1966, with Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier producing. When released that September, it became a Top 10 hit on the Billboard R&B charts; when reissued in Britain five years later, the Elgins’ recording became even more popular, reaching the Top 3.
And so, when Bonnie Pointer signed to Motown in 1978, “Heaven Must Have Sent You” was among the tracks chosen for her first album there, titled Bonnie Pointer. The entire project was produced by Berry Gordy and Jeffrey Bowen, the latter a close associate of Holland/Dozier/Holland during their Motown tenure. Even so, the singer was anxious about her solo prospects, and contacted her sisters for help. “I got scared in the studio and called them,” Bonnie told the Los Angeles Times a couple of years later. “I told them I needed them to come down and do backups for me, and they told me, ‘No, you’re on your own.’”
The concern proved unfounded: “Heaven Must Have Sent You” became a major hit when released as the second single from Bonnie Pointer. The album featured Bonnie’s version of another Motown classic, “When I’m Gone,” as well as new material composed by Jeffrey Bowen and Donald Baldwin, who had previously co-written the Temptations’ hit, “Happy People” with Lionel Richie. Pointer returned to the Motown songbook for her second album, which included her updated interpretations of “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “Jimmy Mack” and “Nowhere To Run.”
REMAKES: “Heaven Must Have Sent You” has been recorded (or sampled) less than most Holland/Dozier/Holland hits, despite its catchy melody and cheerful lyric. As noted above, the Supremes cut a version in 1967, while a Pennsylvania group, the Continental Four, tackled it in 1972 with the help of Philadelphia producer Bobby Martin. Given the song’s U.K. popularity, it was a logical choice for Pete Waterman, a longtime British admirer of the Motown sound, when he came to produce Motown Mania, a 2001 compilation of newly recorded versions of Hitsville hits. To sing “Heaven Must Have Sent You,” Waterman chose Lulu.
FOOTNOTE: And what of Bonnie’s newsworthy personal life? Aside from her sometimes-bumpy relationship with Anita, Ruth and the late June Pointer, the youngest of the girls had a much-reported contretemps with her husband/manager. Yes, Bonnie had married Jeffrey Bowen in 1978, with whom she made both her Motown albums and a subsequent set, If The Price Is Right, for another company. In 1996, Bowen was charged with spousal battery after he hit Bonnie (and June) during an argument over when to leave a Christmas Eve party at June’s Hollywood Hills home. Bowen was also injured; he was later acquitted of the most serious of the charges. Bonnie and Bowen separated in 2004, according to the Daily Mail, which mystifyingly failed to mention the title of the singer’s first hit for Motown, “Free Me From My Freedom/Tie Me To A Tree (Handcuff Me).”