TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Recorded on Friday, June 17, 1960.
SONGWRITER: Berry Gordy Jr.
PRODUCER: Berry Gordy Jr.
BACKSTORY: When Marv Johnson stepped into New York’s Bell Sound Studios in mid-1960, he was already Berry Gordy’s most consistent hitmaker. The 21-year-old from Detroit had scored back-to-back Top 10 pop hits, “You Got What It Takes” and “I Love The Way You Love,” and performed a series of successful concert dates at home and abroad. “All this, without any big publicity campaign, TV appearances – or payola,” reported showbiz columnist Dick Kleiner in newspapers of the day.
Berry managed Marv, whose “Come To Me” was the first 45 on the Tamla label, eighteen months earlier (for more on his career, read here). Its local success around Detroit attracted United Artists Records, to which Gordy signed Johnson soon afterwards. By 1960, the singer’s career was on the up, and he was busy. His first album had been released in January, “I Love The Way You Love” had hit the Top 10 in April, and shortly before checking into Bell Sound, he had played shows in the U.S. with line-ups featuring Ray Charles, Ruth Brown and the Drifters.
“(You’ve Got To) Move Two Mountains” was one of several Gordy songs cut by Johnson that June; another was his version of “Merry-Go-Round,” which had been recorded by Eddie Holland the previous year. The arranger on the Bell sessions was Bill Ramal, soon to become known for his work with another Michigan star, Del Shannon.
When released as a 45 in July by United Artists, “(You’ve Got To) Move Two Mountains” earned Marv his third major hit, which reached the Top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 in October. The disc ranked even higher on the Hot R&B Sides countdown, climbing to No. 12 in September. By then, Johnson was entertaining audiences as part of the “Biggest Show of Stars” tour, in the company of Sam Cooke, Bobby Rydell, Dion & the Belmonts, and Duane Eddy. It was a great view from the mountain top.
REMAKES: During the late 1950s and early ’60s, European recording artists would often cover contemporary American hits – and gain bigger-selling results in their home countries than the originals. “(You’ve Got To) Move Two Mountains” was made in 1960 by the Mudlarks, a British pop trio, but it did not sell. Nor did the version by Irish star Ronnie Carroll, even when coupled with his recording of Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang.” Most notable about the Carroll cover, perhaps, was the identity of its producer, Ivor Raymonde, who was soon to be associated with one of Motown’s biggest fans in Britain, Dusty Springfield. As for “(You’ve Got To) Move Two Mountains,” there was at least one American remake, by actor/singer Dave Peel. He was known for roles in TV’s Daniel Boone and The Virginian, and in Robert Altman’s Nashville, but as a singer, Peel entitled his 1971 album after the Berry Gordy song, and gained a minor hit single on the Billboard country charts with the title track. The year before, Peel and Connie Eaton had also spent time on those best-seller lists, with their version of Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston’s “It Takes Two.”
FOOTNOTE: Marv Johnson’s popularity waned after his 1959-61 run of hits, but British record buyers gave him a second spell in the spotlight with his ’68 single, “I’ll Pick A Rose For My Rose.” Unsuccessful when issued by Motown that year in the U.S., the track became a U.K. Top 10 entry in March 1969. Johnson crossed the Atlantic for promotion and concert dates, and there was even a British-released album (never available in the U.S.) titled after the hit. Marv continued to attract the favour of Britons: record producer Ian Levine recorded him in the 1990s for his U.K. label, Motorcity. If the mountain is high enough, you can see across oceans.