Record of the Day: Mary Wells – Bye Bye Baby (1961)

I love Mary Wells — her voice, her style, the fact that she was from Detroit, so I pounced when I saw a reissue of her record Bye Bye Baby, originally out in 1961, at a record shop the other day. Mary was easily one of the best of Motown’s original artists, and back in the day some folks called her the Queen of Motown. What a title. Personally I’d rather be the Queen of Motown than the Queen of England.

Speaking of England, there’s a British dude who writes a popular Motown blog, and a few years ago I realized he had given Mary’s version of “Come to Me” a poor review. It blew my mind, because her version is excellent, and I honestly haven’t read a word on his site since. I was pretty pleased that this record kicks off with that cut. Perhaps Berry Gordy agreed with me.

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There are other songs on here that you know, and if you like Mary’s voice — the realness of it, the gentle power of her throaty coos, I think you’ll like her versions just as well as others.

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This was Mary’s first full-length album, and it features more of her upbeat early recordings and fewer of the later ballads. It includes her first single for Tamla/Motown, one she wrote when she was just 17 years old. It’s a jam, and an earworm. I’ve had it stuck in my head at some point in each day since I got this record.

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Bye Bye Baby is a solid record, and an excellent one for a young artist to make right out of gate. I think Motown owed a lot of its success to Mary Wells, who recorded four solo albums on the label, plus one live record and one duet with Marvin Gaye. She split ways with Motown in 1965, realizing that the contact she signed when she was only 17 wasn’t working for her anymore. Mary moved to the Atco label then, but she never really reached the same level of fame she achieved in that sweet spot on Grand Blvd., Detroit in the 1960s.

Mary Wells died pretty young, but she made a clear mark on the 60s and on soul music in general. Luckily for us, she left behind a lot of recordings, and this excellent reissue serves to remind that she still has a lot of fans out there, and I hope that never changes.

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Dacia lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes, drinks & listens to records.

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