Before soul music began, back in the Forties and Fifties, there was doo wop and gospel. And before Marvin Gay became better known as Marvin Gaye, he was one-quarter of The Marquees.
This song, co-written with Bo Diddley, was their only single, released in 1957 on the OKeh label.
Marvin’s not the lead singer – that wouldn’t come ’til two years later – but his voice is there in the mix. I’m wondering whether Diddley, who co-wrote this song and had hired The Marquees as his backing vocalists, might be playing the rock’n’roll-sounding guitar, which really comes into its own in the second half of the song.
Formed that same year in Washington D.C., The Marquees failed to make a name for themselves beyond the local D.C. scene and were turned down by Chess, despite Diddley’s endorsement.
That changed after they met Harvey Fuqua, the founder of a more successful doo wop group, The Moonglows (and later a key figure in the success of Motown), who took The Marquees to Chicago and changed their name to Harvey Fuqua & The New Moonglows.
They recorded several sides for Chess, including Mama Loocie – Marvin’s first lead vocal in 1959 – and earned extra money as session singers for Chuck Berry.
When the band split in 1960, Marvin followed Fuqua to Detroit and worked as a studio musician until he caught the ear of Motown founder Berry Gordy, who signed him to his subsidiary label Tamla.
At which point he added an E to his name, probably in tribute to Sam Cooke, one of his influences and idols. At first Marvin, who also worked as a session drummer, had planned to be a supper-club singer, performing jazz standards, but Gordy wanted him to appeal to a younger audience.
It wasn’t a bad idea.