Our Motown Recording Heritage (Part 3)

By Robert Dennis

Recently, I had a chat with Guy Gordon of Channel 7 in Detroit. He was in the studio taping an interview with Tom Gelardi, about the Beatles. Tom was a local Capital Records Representative when the Beatles hit. Guy wanted to get him on video tape for a special November broadcast regarding the Beatles.

At the time the Beatles hit, Motown was establishing itself as the largest independent record company in the world. The world took notice as the Beatles had three records in the Top 10 in mid 1964 - an unheard of event. The World was shocked when the Motown Supremes busted though the Beatles, and replaced them with their #1 record, "Baby Love." The Beatles took notice also and began recording their own versions of some of the early Motown hits. By fall of 1964, Motown employees had Beatles key chains, T-Shirts, etc. A strong mutual respect developed between the Beatles, and Motown.

Guy was very interested in this because it tied into his Beatles story and, as a matter of fact, he asked me about it. The conversation shifted from Beatles to Motown. I related a Motown story that Engineer's Quarterly readers may well be interested in.

In the Spring of 1964, the 4 Tops had a number one hit - "I Can't Help Myself." Before coming to Motown, the "Tops" were signed to Columbia Records (Now CBS/Sony). Columbia went into the vaults in the Summer of 1964, and released a tune they had recorded on the Tops. They were trying to get the "recorders" off of Motown's hit record. Distributors put in standing orders with record companies that they will take a certain number of copies of ANY release by a certain artist who has a large hit. Knowing this, Columbia timed their release correctly to "fill" these reorders.

Berry was pissed! No, Berry was PISSED!

Immediately, all recording and production people were advised that everyone would be working on the next Tops release and it was to get out TODAY!

The writing & producing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, met chief engineer Lawrence Horn in the studio at 3PM. With the musicians and the Tops standing by, they wrote "It’s The Same Old Song" on the spot. The musicians were running the tune down with Brian Holland and Lawrence, as Eddie Holland was finishing the lyrics and Lamont Dozier was finishing the melody at 3:30 PM. By 5 PM, I received the first mix from the hands of Robert Gordy, and he waited for me while I cut a reference disk on it. I immediately began cutting 7 inch records of this mix, and hand-stamping the hand-typed labels with "MOTOWN." At 5:40 PM, I got another mix from Robert, and he again waited for the test cut.

At 6:00 PM, I got a call to cut a master for a strike-off. A strike-off is a stamper to press out the records very quickly - you can only get about 1000 pressings from a strike-off, but the stamper can be made very fast.

At 6:05, I received a call to cut a second master and put it in the same box - I was slightly pissed because I had already started packing the first master. By 6:35 PM, someone (probably some "Gordy" person) was speeding toward Owosso, Michigan, to the American Record Pressing Plant. I was still hand cutting records.

Between 6 PM and Midnight, I received six more mixes of the tune, each time changing the tape I was using to hand-cut copies for DJ's. I got an engineer in at 10 PM and another to relive him at 9 AM. I made sure that the engineer knew exactly what to do and left around midnight. At 8 AM I was making sure all the hand-cut records were finished (some 300) and handing them off to Ester Gordy.

By 3 PM (24 hours after beginning), Motown managed to have 1500 records in the hands of the key DJ's in the country, and "It's The Same Old Song" became a hit literally overnight. The record eventually went #2, and "almost" went gold - not bad for a little company in three houses on West Grand Blvd. The Columbia release went to #39 and sold a lot of records.

Whenever I listened to the "Same Old Song" Motown release, it sounded "thrown-together" and sub-standard. I guess I was right to some degree because it only went to #2. I had the disadvantage of knowing how it was done. Most other people liked it and didn't notice any lack.

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