If you listened to nothing else in the 60s except for Soul, you’d have enough to discover and keep you occupied well into the 1990s. If you listened to Soul as well as everything else that was happening in the 60s you would be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of incredible talent and pioneering music.
Soul was the backbone to Rock in the 60s – it influenced the British Invasion bands in a way domestic bands couldn’t. And it created an atmosphere where the audience, who may not have been aware or exposed to Soul, suddenly got busy, catching up on what they were missing.
The Velvelettes were a perennial favorite – maybe not as well known as The Supremes or Martha and The Vandellas, The Velvelettes had some pretty noteworthy hits during their tenure – and like so much music at the time, made the big crossover to mainstream (i.e. White) Top-40 stations.
The Velvelettes were founded in 1961 by Bertha Barbee McNeal and Mildred Gill Arbor, students at Western Michigan University. Mildred recruited her younger sister Carolyn (also known as Cal or Caldin), who was in 9th grade, and Cal’s friend Betty Kelley, a junior in high school. Bertha recruited her cousin Norma Barbee, a freshman at Flint Junior College. Cal was chosen as the group’s lead singer.
A classmate at Western Michigan University, Robert Bullock, was Berry Gordy’s nephew, and he encouraged the group to audition for Motown Records. The group signed to Motown in late 1962 and started recording in January 1963. They recorded at the Hitsville USA studio and “There He Goes” and “That’s The Reason Why”, produced by William Stevenson, was released as a single via the IPG Records label (Independent Producers Group). The recordings included a young Stevie Wonder playing harmonica. While the group awaited their chance at stardom, they recorded for many producers, some of which were re-recorded by other artists including fellow labelmates Martha and the Vandellas and The Supremes. The Velvelettes were not used to provide backing vocals since Motown already had its in-house backing group, The Andantes.
The Velvelettes got their break chartwise in the spring of 1964 thanks to young producer Norman Whitfield, who produced “Needle In A Haystack” as a single for the group, on Motown’s VIP Records imprint. “Needle In A Haystack” peaked at number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid 1964. The group recorded its follow-up, “He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin'”, with Whitfield again producing, and spent time on various Motown-sponsored tours as a support act. In September 1964, after recording “Dancing In The Street” earlier in June, Betty Kelley officially left the group to join Martha and the Vandellas, and the quintet became a quartet.
Here are those early hits, as issued on an ep by Tamla-Motown in the UK in 1965.
Crank it up.