After four hit laden years at Motown, Mary Wells dropped a bombshell, when she announced she was leaving Motown. Mary couldn’t have chosen a better time to leave Motown. She was holding all the cards, and had just enjoyed the equivalent of a Royal Flush. My Guy had just reached number one, when Mary’s lawyers filed a suit announcing her intention to leave Motown. Her lawyers argued that Mary aged just seventeen when she signed to Motown, was still a minor. The courts agreed, despite Mary’s mother countersigning the contract. With the court finding in Mary Wells’ favour, she was free to leave Motown. After that, Mary and Motown’s legal teams were locked in talks to negotiate Mary’s release from Motown. Eventually, by the end of the summer of 1964, Mary Wells was free to sign to 20th Century Fox, for a then record, $250,000 advance. Sadly, Mary’s career at 20th Century Fox was brief. She released just two albums, which contained some of her finest music. These were 1965s Mary Wells and 1966s Love Songs To The Beatles, which were recently released by SoulMusic Records as Mary Wells-The 20th Century Collection. Unfortunately for Mary her time at suffered from backlash by DJs, who took umbrage to Mary’s decision to leave the mighty Motown.

With Mary Wells now signed to 20th Century Fox, she was to discover that glitters isn’t always gold. She’d been offered such a sizable advance, refusing it would’ve been foolhardy. It was an offer Mary couldn’t refuse. However, she would soon discover that 20th Century Fox weren’t as well equipped as Motown when it came to marketing her music. There was a further complication, one that seems almost bizarre nearly forty years later.

Radio DJs felt Mary had been disloyal to Motown. They refused to play Mary’s 20th Century Fox releases. DJs almost seemed to take it personally that an artist should decide to leave Motown. They felt Motown had backed Mary Wells, and that this was a two-way street. Whether they were as loyal to their own employers is unknown? What they were overlooking, was that no longer were artists willing to stand being treated as hired hands. They should’ve realised, that “the workman was worthy of their hire.”

What DJs forgot is that back in the early sixties, many small labels treated artists liked hired hands. Often artists were exploited by small labels, with royalties remaining unpaid and when they were paid, were a fraction of what the label made. So why shouldn’t artists enjoy the freedom of labor other employees enjoyed? Mary’s contract wasn’t legally enforceable and quite rightly, she was able to sign for a new label. As an artist, with a string of successful singles and albums, she was entitled to a her, $250,000 advance. Not in the la-la world the radio DJs lived in. They had the power and used it, to ensure Mary’s music went unheard.

Regardless of the quality of music Mary Wells recorded for 20th Century Fox, it wasn’t played by these DJs. Mary had done the unthinkable and left Motown. They weren’t going to forgive Mary in a hurry. It didn’t matter what producers, songwriters and musicians Mary worked with, her music wasn’t heard on radio. Unfortunately, this boycott coincided with Mary releasing some of the best music of her career. Considering the music Mary had previously released, this is saying something.

Before signing to 20th Century Fox, Mary Wells had been one of Motown’s most successful artists. Mary was born in 1943, had a tough childhood. She suffered from spinal meningitis, which meant she was temporarily paralysed, and became partially deaf and blind. After two years in hospital, Mary recovered and returned home. Soon, she’d discover a talent that would become her career.

After Mary’s mother heard her singing at home, she encouraged her to sing in talent shows in the Detroit area. She was still in her early teens, soon started singing and writing songs. By the time she was seventeen, she was a singer, but a songwriter. She had written a song, Bye Bye Baby and approached songwriter and producer Robert Bateman about getting Berry Gordy to listen to her composition. Mary had thought Jackie Wilson would be perfect to sing the song. By the time Berry Gordy heard the song, he was no longer writing for Jackie. Instead, Berry offered Mary a recording contract.

When Bye Bye Baby was released, it reached number forty-five in the US Billboard 100 and number ten in the US R&B Charts in 1960. This launched Mary’s career. Hits like I Don’t Want To Take A Chance followed, before Smokey Robinson was entrusted with producing Mary Wells. The One Who Really Loves You, the Grammy nominated You Beat Me To the Punch and Two Lovers gave Mary three consecutive US R&B hits and two consecutive hits in the US Billboard 100. Solo studio albums included Mary’s 1961 debut Bye Bye Baby, her 1962 sophomore album The One Who Really Loves You and 1963s Two Lovers. A single that will forever be synonymous with Mary Wells was My Guy, which reached number one in the US Billboard 100 and number five in the UK. My Guy was also the title of Mary’s final Motown studio album, released in 1964. The next studio album Mary released would be for her new label, 20th Century Fox.


For Mary’s debut album for 20th Century Fox, Mary Wells, her new label scoured the country for the right material. This included the Sidney Barnes and J.J. Jackson penned My Mind’s Made Up, Van McCoy’s We’re Just Two of A Kind and Rudy Clark’s Why Don’t You Let Yourself Go and Everlovin’ Boy. Louis Pegues wrote two of the singles from Mary Wells, Stop Takin’ Me For Granted and Ain’t It the Truth. At least four producers worked on Mary Wells. Carl Davis, Bob Bateman and Andre Williams are three of them, while the producer of three tracks are unknown. Once Mary Wells was recorded, the album was set for release in 1965.

On the release of Mary Wells, on 20th Century Fox it failed to chart. A year later, in 1966, Mary Wells was rereleased by Movietone and reached number 145. The singles fared better. Ain’t It the Truth reached number forty-five in the US Billboard 100. Stop Takin’ Me For Granted then reached number thirty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number thirteen in the US R&B Charts. The hits kept coming, with Never, Never Leave Me the final single released from Mary Wells. It reached number fifty-four in the US Billboard 100 and number fifteen in the US R&B Charts.

He’s A Lover then reached number seventy-four in the US Billboard 100. Then in 1966, a non-album track, Me Without You penned by Sidney Barnes and J.J. Jackson reached number ninety-five in the US Billboard 100. This is one of six bonus tracks on Disc One of Mary Wells-The 20th Century Collection. While Mary Wells didn’t replicate the success Mary’s previous albums and singles at Motown, this wasn’t helped by the lack of radio play. Listeners and DJs missed out on some great music.

There were twelve tracks on Mary Wells, four of which were released as singles. The singles were well chosen and are among Mary Wells’ highlights. Two of the singles were written by Louis Pegues. He’d later fine fame as Lou Courtney. Both Stop Takin’ Me For Granted and Ain’t It the Truth were among the highlights of Mary Wells. It was as if Louis had written these songs with Mary in mind. She breathed life and meaning into them. Another of the singles, Use Your Head, which was co-written by Chuck Barksdale of The Dells in just thirty minutes. It gained some much deserved radio play, and is Mary Wells at her soulful best. Then there was Mary’s heartfelt, pleas on Never, Never Leave Me, which gave Mary a top-twenty US R&B hit single. However, there was more to Mary Wells than four singles.

Van McCoy contributed We’re Just Two of a Kind, a slice of easy listening soul. Sidney Barnes and J.J. Jackson showed just how talented a songwriting a team they were, by writing the emotive and thoughtful My Mind’s Made Up. Then there was the sheer sadness and emotion of How Can I Forget You, which Louis Pegues cowrote. It seemed that despite being on a new label, Mary Wells had lost none of her soulfulness and ability to breath life, meaning and a range of emotions into the twelve tracks. That the sheer intransigence of small-minded DJs, meant Mary Wells never found a wider audience is like a modern day Greek tragedy. Fate and hidden agendas had transpired against Mary Wells and her new label 20th Century Fox. Maybe her next album would prove more successful.


It seems almost apt that Mary Wells next album would see her pay homage to The Beatles. Following the release of Mary Wells, Mary had spent time touring with The Beatles. They had become champions of Mary’s music and proved supportive towards Mary’s career. Indeed, for Mary’s second album for 20th Century Fox, Mary decided to take up The Beatles offer to record some of their songs. Previously, The Beatles had offered Mary a long list of songs she could record for future albums. Eventually, Mary chose twelve songs, which would become Love Songs To the Beatles, which would be released later in 1965.

With a plentiful supply of hits and quality music from one of the hottest and successful songwriting teams, Lennon and McCartney, Mary Wells was spoilt for choice. She chose well. Early and mid-period Beatles songs including Help, Please Please Me, Do You Want To Know A Secret, And I Love Him and I Should Have Known Better all featured on Love Songs To the Beatles. Surely a combination of The Beatles and Mary Wells’ sheer soulfulness would rejuvenate Mary’s career, and see her reach the heights she enjoyed at Motown.

When Love Songs To the Beatles was released in 1965, the album failed to chart. Neither did the only single released from I Should Have Known Better, I Should Have Known Better. It seemed the lack of radio play and 20th Century Fox’s lack of marketing prowess held back sales of I Should Have Known Better. Again radio listeners and record buyers missed out not just on some of the best music of Mary’s career, but some of the best covers of The Beatles’ songs.

Love Songs To the Beatles saw Mary Wells give twelve Beatles tracks a jazzy makeover. In a similar vein to Frank Sinatra’s work with Nelson Riddle, arranger Joe Mazzu and producer Bernie Wayne worked their magic with the twelve tracks. Tracks like All My Lovin,’ Please Please Me and I Saw Him Standing There were transformed. Mary’s vocal was transformed, delivering the songs with a jazzy style, that sometimes, swung.

Other tracks, including Do You Want To Know A Secret, And I Love Him and Can’t Buy Me Love were given also given makeover. This saw Mary deliver them in a looser, more laid back style. She leaves space and a sense of pensiveness to the songs.  The other tracks ranged from a Latin sound to the poppy sound of Help and Yesterday. During the twelve tracks on Love Songs To the Beatles, Mary showcased her sheer versatility, mixing, jazz, soul, pop and Latin music. Despite this new side to Mary’s music, sales were disappointing. Mary Wells career at 20th Century Fox was over before it had even started. In many ways, it wasn’t anything to do with the music, instead, it was more about hidden agendas and self-important DJs.

That Mary Wells two 20th Century Fox albums, Mary Wells and Love Songs To the Beatles failed commercially was no reflection on the music on the two albums. Instead, it was the result of a concerted campaign by self-important DJs, determined to derail Mary’s career. Add to the equation 20th Century Fox’s lack of marketing experience in dealing with a potential soul superstar. Maybe if Mary had signed to another label, one more experienced and expert in marketing and PR, then Mary Wells could’ve become one of soul’s biggest superstars. Marketing was important even forty years ago. Maybe a guerilla marketing campaign highlighting the unfairness of radio DJs would’ve helped. Possibly a more experienced and expert PR department might have managed to get the renegade DJs onside. Instead, Mary Wells career suffered and what should’ve been the next step in becoming the first Lady of Soul stalled. Following Mary Wells’ brief career at 20th Century Fox, Mary never seemed to stay long at a label. For the rest of her career, she changed labels and never really reached the heights of her Motown years. Certainly Mary Wells’ time at 20th Century Fox shows proves that all that glitters isn’t gold. At least Mary Wells time at 20th Century Fox wasn’t in vain. During her short stay at 20th Century Fox, Mary Wells released some of the finest music of her career. That music, including Mary Wells and Love Songs To the Beatles, plus six bonus tracks, feature on Mary Wells-The 20th Century Collection which was recently released by SoulMusic Records. Mary Wells-The 20th Century Collection proves beyond all reasonable doubt, that there’s much more to Mary Well’s career than her time at Motown.


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