During the past 60 years, Motown Records has been among the music industry’s most consistent hit machines, with such stars as Diana Ross & the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Jackson 5, the Commodores and more. Proof enough is that the Supremes reached Number One on the Billboard pop charts 12 times, but the accomplishments of, say, Stevie Wonder are not chopped liver, either: he has scored 27 Top 10 hits, including eight solo Number Ones.
Yet not everyone signed to Motown could score over and over. Here’s a ranking of the ten acts who had one major Top 10 success, but never returned to those heights. In addition to ruling the Hot 100 in April 1977, Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” won a Grammy, but her Motown follow-ups stalled below the Top 30. Even Berry Gordy’s son Kennedy, professionally known as Rockwell, had little luck with his releases after “Somebody’s Watching Me.” Only one (“Obscene Phone Caller”) made the Billboard Top 100, and that peaked 25 rungs below the Top 10.
Billy Preston recorded a pair of Number One hits before he joined Motown, but his duet with Syreeta, “With You I’m Born Again,” was his only return to the Top 10 (and it was her only such success). The Contours came closest: they could not revisit the Top 10 – or the Top 40 – with their follow-ups to 1962’s “Do You Love Me,” but when that track was used for the soundtrack of hit movie Dirty Dancing, a Motown reissue climbed to No. 11 in 1988. The answer to “Do You Love Me” was evidently still “yes.”
Motown found it impossible to send three other acts back to the Top 10 who had previously spent time there: Shorty Long (“Here Comes The Judge”), Tom Clay (“What The World Needs Now Is Love”) and Jimmy Ruffin (“What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted”). The last of these did manage it one more time, after switching labels: Ruffin’s “Hold On To Your Love” held a Top 10 slot in 1980 for RSO Records.
MOTOWN’S TOP 10: ONE-HIT WONDERS
Things you need to know. This time: hitmakers with only one Top 10 success at Motown
(ranked by chart peak on the Billboard Hot 100*)
1) “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” THELMA HOUSTON (1)
2) “Somebody’s Watching Me,” ROCKWELL (2)
3) “Do You Love Me,” THE CONTOURS (3)
4) “I’ve Never Been To Me,” CHARLENE (3)
5) “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH (3)
6) “With You I’m Born Again,” BILLY PRESTON & SYREETA (4)
7) “Let It Whip,” THE DAZZ BAND (5)
8) “Indiana Wants Me,” R. DEAN TAYLOR (5)
9) “Respect Yourself,” BRUCE WILLIS (5)
10) “In My House,” THE MARY JANE GIRLS (7)
(*Ties broken by weeks in Top 10 or Top 100)