More than 73 years in the past, Barrett Strong, as a singer, declared “Money (That’s What I Want)” — for the primary hit single from the Motown empire.
What he truly wound up getting was musical immortality. As a songwriter.
Strong — who handed away Sunday, Jan. 29, on the age of 81 in Detroit — co-wrote a few of Motown’s most enduring hits, with a wide range of collaborators however primarily the late Norman Whitfield. Those included “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” for Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips, “War” for Edwin Starr, the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and a wealth of fabric kind the Temptations — “I Wish It Would Rain,” “Just My Imagination,” “Cloud Nine,” “Psychedelic Shack” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” for which Strong shared a Grammy Award.
The transition from performer to songwriter suited him properly. “I never felt comfortable with myself as a recording artist,” Strong informed Billboard in 2016. The father of six and grandfather of 13 famous, “I had to work to support my family. I’m not looking for the spotlight and all the glamour and stuff like that. I just like to work in my studio and see what we can come up with.”
In a press release issued Sunday, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. — who described Strong as “shy” in his memoir, To Be Loved, mentioned that, “I am saddened to hear of the passing of Barrett Strong, one of my earliest artists, and the man who sang my first big hit … Barrett was not only a great singer and piano player, but he, along with his writing partner Norman Whitfield, created an incredible body of work, primarily with the Temptations. Their hit songs were revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times … Barrett is an original member of the Motown Family and will be missed by all of us.”
In addition to the Grammy, Strong was additionally honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Songwriters in 1990 and a Songwriters Hall of Fame induction in 2004. BMI celebrated his legacy throughout a particular occasion in 2016.
The son of a Uniroyal plant employee and a housewife, Strong grew up on Detroit’s west facet and sang in a gospel group together with his 4 sisters. They toured the native church circuit and befriended stars comparable to Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. “When they’d come to town they’d stop by the house and visit with us,” Strong recalled. “We would all sit around the piano and play and sing.”
It was Wilson who launched Gordy to the Strongs in 1957. Gordy hit it off with the bold Strong, who typically walked to Gordy’s east facet residence to trade music concepts. One day Gordy informed Strong, “I like what you can do. I’m gonna do something with you.”
The very first thing was a single known as “Let’s Rock”/”Do the Very Best You Can,” which obtained some native airplay however didn’t make a nationwide influence. “Money,” nonetheless, was a Top 50 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the R&B charts, later coated by the Beatles and throughout the ’80s by the avant-garde group the Flying Lizards. Gordy and Janie Bradford wrote the music, however there are three totally different tales about the way it got here to be.
In his memoir To Be Loved, Berry claims the “shy” Strong, who performs piano in addition to sings on the observe, joined the session “uninvited.” Bradford, in the meantime, recollects Gordy inviting Strong into the room and asking him to “give me something,” which grew to become the opening piano riff for the music. Strong? HE remembers jamming on the piano, riffing off of Ray Charles‘ “What’d I Say?” “I was playing, and then that little thing came up and everybody said, ‘What was that?!’” he says. “They said, ‘Let’s write some lyrics,’ and we had a song.”
The remainder of Strong’s time at Motown was simply as memorable. He recollects that Motown initially didn’t need to launch “Grapevine,” which he started writing throughout a quick tenure working for Vee Jay Records in Chicago. “They didn’t think it was a hit record,” mentioned Strong, including with a chuckle, “You know how it goes: They say, ‘We don’t like that,’ but when it’s a hit, everybody takes credit.” The Miracles had been truly the primary to document the music, in 1966, and Gaye recorded it the next yr. But it was Knight’s raucous model that got here out first, throughout September of 1967, adopted by Gaye’s slowed-down groove 11 months later; Knight’s reached No. 2 on the Hot 100, whereas Gaye’s topped the chart. Creedence Clearwater Revival turned in an 11-minute model of “Grapevine” on its 1970 album Cosmo’s Factory, whereas the California Raisins coated it for a TV business in 1986, which launched a “career” for the cartoon group.
“Just My Imagination,” in the meantime, was one thing of a desperation venture for Strong and Whitfield after a few different songs they wrote for the Temptations didn’t do properly. “We had to get our band back,” Strong mentioned. “If we didn’t come up with something they’d have someone else writing for ’em.” Stress apart, Strong had little however constructive reminiscences of his songwriting heyday. “It was a great time,” he mentioned. “We were just kids, and we did it for the fun, not the money. We enjoyed being at the studio all day, working.”
“Nowadays people want the money first, which I can understand,” he mentioned. “But we used to put the product first and figured if we worked hard we would get paid. It was just an era.”
Strong left Motown throughout the early ’70s and resumed his performing profession, recording for the Epic and Capitol labels. He additionally co-wrote singles for the Dells. For a time Strong operated a manufacturing firm known as Boomtown in Detroit, mentoring and partnering with youthful artists, and in 2010 he launched Stronghold II, his first album in 30 years.
“You don’t quit. You just slow down,” Strong mentioned in 2016. “You take your time more. But you have to keep up, too, and relate to the younger people now. I don’t want to be left behind.”
No reason for dying has been revealed for Strong. Funeral particulars are pending.