Probably the most pop-oriented of Motown’s major female acts, the Marvelettes didn’t project as strong an identity as the Supremes, Mary Wells, or Martha Reeves, but recorded quite a few hits, including Motown’s first number one single, “Please Mr. Postman” (1961).
“Postman,” as well as other chirpy early-’60s hits like “Playboy,” “Twistin’ Postman,” and “Beechwood 4-5789,” were the label’s purest girl group efforts. Featuring two strong lead singers, Gladys Horton and Wanda Young, the Marvelettes went through five different lineups, but maintained a high standard on their recordings.
After a few years, they moved from girl group sounds to up-tempo and mid-tempo numbers that were more characteristic of Motown’s production line. They received no small help from Smokey Robinson, who produced and wrote many of their singles; Holland-Dozier-Holland, Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Marvin Gaye, and Ashford-Simpson also got involved with the songwriting and production at various points.
After the mid-’60s Wanda Young assumed most of the lead vocal duties; Gladys Horton departed from the group in the late ’60s. While the Marvelettes didn’t cut as many monster smashes as most of their Motown peers after the early ’60s, they did periodically surface with classic hits like “Too Many Fish in the Sea,” “Don’t Mess With Bill,” and “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game.” There were also plenty of fine minor hits and misses, like 1965’s “I’ll Keep Holding On,” which is just as memorable as the well-known Motown chart-toppers of the era. The group quietly disbanded in the early ’70s after several years without a major hit.
– Richie Unterberger