TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Climbs into the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending Saturday, September 22, 1962.
SONGWRITERS: William “Smokey” Robinson, Ronald White.
PRODUCER: William “Smokey” Robinson.
BACKSTORY: By the fall of ’62, Motown Records was making progress. The three-year-old company had earned four Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100; “You Beat Me To The Punch” was to be the fifth. Moreover, it was the teenager’s second such success, and Motown’s first Number One on the R&B charts.
“It hadn’t taken Mary long to become a star,” wrote Berry Gordy in his autobiography, To Be Loved. “On stage, her attitude commanded attention. She wore long, glamorous gowns and stylish, trendy wigs – from black bouffants to blond ponytails. It looked like Mary would be that big female star I had always wanted.”
The songs and production chops of Smokey Robinson made it happen. “Mary had become my pet project,” he recalled in his memoir, Inside My Life. “I liked writing for her voice. Liked experimenting with her sound. In fact, I took my love for Harry Belafonte’s calypso and gave an island flavour bongo to ‘The One Who Really Loves You.’ It hit big.”
The same happened with “You Beat Me To The Punch,” which grabbed attention as one of three fast-rising Motown releases on the Billboard pop charts during the third week of September 1962. (The others: “Beechwood 4-5789” by the Marvelettes, “Do You Love Me” by the Contours.)
“You Beat Me To The Punch” was recorded at Hitsville U.S.A. in February that year, and released in July. Vocal accompaniment was credited to the Love-Tones, who comprised Carl Jones, Joe Marls and Stanford Bracely. Smokey followed it with another major hit, “Two Lovers,” which became Mary’s third consecutive smash on the pop charts. She was that big female star Mr. Gordy had always wanted.
REMAKES: In general, Smokey Robinson’s early songs attracted fewer covers than his later work, but “You Beat Me To The Punch” managed a respectable share. Naturally, he himself cut the song on the Temptations for 1965’s The Temptations Sing Smokey album, while fellow Motown producers Clarence Paul and Ivy Jo Hunter produced a version for Edwin Starr (with accompaniment by the Love-Tones) a couple of years later. Another Motown darling, Barbara McNair, tried her hand at it with producers Frank Wilson and Richard Morris in 1968. Beyond Hitsville, there were remakes by Charity Brown in 1974, Sharon Ridley and Retta Young in 1975, and Sean Delaney (sometimes described as the fifth member of Kiss) in 1979. Of more interest, perhaps, was an “answer” to Mary Wells by Gene Chandler. His “You Threw A Lucky Punch” was released shortly after her chart run, with a tweak (by Don Covay) to the original lyrics – although it wasn’t enough to match sales of the original. Clearly, Motown threw the stronger “Punch.”
FOOTNOTE: The makers of “You Beat Me To The Punch” – producer/writer Smokey Robinson, co-writer Ron White of the Miracles, and Mary Wells – earned another distinction. Theirs was the first Motown release to be nominated for a Grammy® award, for Best Rock & Roll Recording of 1962. The competition included hits by the Four Seasons, Neil Sedaka, Sam Cooke and the Drifters, but the winner turned out to be Danish pianist Bent Fabricius-Bjerre (better known as Bent Fabric), whose instrumental “Alley Cat” was a Top 10 hit. Academy voters were still conservative at this point: winners in the top categories of ’62 included Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Robert Goulet and Peter, Paul & Mary. Motown had to wait until 1968 for its first Grammy® win.