20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: The Marvelettes.
What: The debut album by Motown Records’ first hit-making girl group, and one of the first half-dozen LP releases (on the Tamla label) in the storied music company’s history.
When: As a single, this album’s title track debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 during early September 1961 and made its way to Number One by December, thus becoming Motown’s first claim on the peak of the pop charts. (The Miracles’ “Shop Around” had stalled at No. 2 in February). The Please Mr. Postman LP was issued in late November 1961, containing material recorded by the Marvelettes during the course of the year. (For more about the group, read here.)
Where: The album’s 11 tracks were recorded at Motown’s own, now-historic studio at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, with the cadre of house musicians who later became known as the Funk Brothers. The drummer is thought to have been Benny Benjamin, although there are claims that a young Marvin Gaye was wielding sticks for that particular track. “We’d do a few days in the studio whenever we were in town and record a bunch of songs,” said former group member Katherine Anderson Schaffner, quoted in liner notes for the Marvelettes’ Forever: The Complete Motown Albums Volume 1, released in 2009.
Why: “We had no idea of an album, per se,” added Schaffner. “All we did was record tunes, and then they put them together to make an album.” With Motown still in the early stages of its development, the producers of most of Please Mr. Postman, Brian Holland and Robert Bateman, selected several songs previously cut by other Motown artists. Among them were “I Want A Guy,” which had been the topside of the Supremes’ first Tamla 45; “Way Over There,” written by Smokey Robinson and recorded by his group, the Miracles; and “Whisper,” the flipside of Marv Johnson’s “Come To Me,” the first-ever Tamla release, in January 1959.
What else: “Please Mr. Postman” was not only Motown’s first Number One on the pop charts, but also evolved into one of its most enduring, successful copyrights. The Beatles recorded the song for their second U.K. album, With The Beatles, which generated substantial music-publishing royalties for Motown and its writers, Brian Holland, Robert Bateman, Georgia Dobbins (an early Marvelettes member), Freddie Gorman and William Garrett. In 1974, the Carpenters recorded “Please Mr. Postman,” and it topped the Billboard Hot 100 early the following year. In 2017, the multi-format hit, “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man, used the Motown song’s melody as its foundation stone. “Postman” had delivered once more.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?