Collectable early UK Tamla Motown singles
Along with Rock’n’Roll, The Beatles, Stones and Dylan, it’s probably fair to say soul has been one of the most collectable forms of music since the first record collectors started scouring junk shops looking for deleted obscure 45’s back in the late 1960’s. With it’s massive UK fanbase, Tamla Motown soon became one of the most popular labels to collect and there are plenty of choice UK rarities to empty your wallet with. The first release came out on the most celebrated of UK labels, London American, which was set up by Decca Records to release the latest sounds from the USA it held the rights to release.
In the mid 50’s the explosion of great R’N’B tracks released in the USA and the fact Decca had the rights to release music from Specialty, Atlantic and Chess meant we were treated to all manner of classic American music in the UK. And so in May 1959 the Marv Johnson US Tamla single “Come to me” was released on London HLT 8856, this was followed in November the same year with the piano led instrumental “The Hunch” by Paul Gayten (London HLM 8998) which had been released in the US on Anna records the previous month. Neither sold particularly well but do appear for sale occasionally, neither should cost more than £80 in top condition.
In March 1960 London took up the option to release Barrett Strong’s classic single “Money (That’s what I want)” (London HLU 9088) which was at the time moving up the US hot 100 on it’s way to a #23 chart placing. Unfortunately the same thing never happened in Britain and the single flopped making it the most expensive London single to locate, a mint copy usually selling for around £100-£120. Britain had to wait another eleven months before the next UK release, but what a release it was.
The Miracles had just had Motown’s first million selling 45 in the USA , “Shop around”, and the track was released over here on London on HL 9276. Although it wasn’t a chart hit sales were respectable which is probably what tempted London into releasing a follow-up “Ain’t it baby” in September 1961 (London HL 9366) and even an EP release the following month “Shop Around” (London RE 1295). The EP is by far the hardest of the London releases and when it does appear is usually guaranteed to fetch way over £100.
After six releases and no UK hits, Decca gave up and the releasing rights for Tamla and Motown moved to Philips subsiduary Fontana. A real mixed bag of a label, early releases ranged from Aretha Franklin and James Brown tracks to Cleo Laine and Sooty & Sweep! And so in November 1961 The Marvelettes debut US single and Hot 100 #1 smash “Please Mr Postman” was released on Fontana H 355 in Britain. Although not a hit over here it had steady sales prompting Fontana to release three singles from the label in quick succession early the following year.
The first release was from The Miracles “What’s so good about goodbye” (H 384), The Marvelettes “Twisting Postman” (H 386), and Eddie Holland “Jamie” (H 387). Not one of these singles bothered the UK charts and the Miracles and Eddie Holland singles are now prized rarities for the collector, the former usually selling for around £100 and the Holland 45 easily doubling that in perfect condition.
Around the same time (August 1961) a Motown anomily gained a UK release, The Spinners US Tri-Phi release “That’s what girls are made for” which was a Fuqua / Gordy composition sneaked out on Columbia records in the UK (DB 4693). Some discographies list this single and some don’t as it isn’t an official Motown release but we’ll go with the former as it is a £100+ rarity!
The fact that Fontana’s Motown releases were not selling as well as their Johnny Mathis releases was the probable reason the label was on the move again in autumn 1962 to the upcoming independent Oriole label.
Originally set up in the mid 1920’s in Whitechapel, London, Oriole had begun to have regular chart hits in the late 50s and early 60’s with artists such as Chas McDevitt, Russ Hamilton and Maureen Evans all reaching high positions in the UK. Head of A&R at the company at the time, John Schroeder brought Berry Gordy over to London to sign a twelve month distribution deal and In September 1962 the company launched their “Oriole American” series with three singles leased from the Tamla-Motown stable.
Mary Wells “You beat me to the punch” (CBA 1762) was swiftly followed by The Contours “Do you love me” (CBA 1973) and The Marvelettes “Beechwood 4-5789″ (CBA 1764). All three were steady sellers, unlike the next release in December 1962. Mike & The Modifiers “I got myself a brand new baby” (CBA 1775) must have got lost in the Christmas rush as it sold pitiful amounts hence it’s rarity today. This along with the other ultra rare Oriole / Motown release “I found a girl” by The Valadiers which was released in March 1963 (CBA 1809) have both sold for up to £1000 each and are jewels in any UK Tamla Motown collection.
Oriole released a total of nineteen singles in just under a year, including UK debut discs from Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas and Little Stevie Wonder. Most can be found at a reasonable price apart from the Eddie Holland “If it’s love (It’s alright)” (CBA 1808), The Marvelettes “Locking up my heart” (CBA 1817) and Martha & The Vandellas “I’ll have to let him go” (CBA 1814) 45’s which are all £200+ rarities.
Just as Oriole looked on the cusp of a UK chart hit with Little Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips” (CBA 1853) which was released in August 1963 the US label was snapped up by the giant EMI group of companies and after one final release from The Miracles “Mickeys’ monkey” (CBA 1863) in September Tamla-Motown found itself being released on the legendary Stateside label in Britain. But that’s another story altogether…
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