Barrett Strong, Early Motown Hitmaker, Co-Writer Of Hitsville Classics, Dies At 81

Strong’s 1959 recording of ‘Money (That’s What I Want) was Motown’s first hit and he later formed a formidable creative partnership with Norman Whitfield.

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Barrett Strong - Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Barrett Strong - Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Barrett Strong, the early Motown artist who became one of the company’s key songwriters and formed a formidable creative partnership with Norman Whitfield, died yesterday (29) in Detroit, at the age of 81.

Money (That's What I Want) (The Motown Story: The 60s Version)

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Strong, an inductee of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, played a seminal role in Motown’s initial success with his 1959 recording of “Money (That’s What I Want,” written by founder Berry Gordy with Janie Bradford. The song became a No.2 R&B hit and Top 30 pop entry in the US, and served as an introduction to Motown for many emerging artists, most notably The Beatles, who included a cover on their second album With The Beatles (released in American as The Beatles’ Second Album). The song was also cut by countless other British outfits, including the Rolling Stones, and by everyone from Etta James to the Everly Brothers.

Said Gordy in a statement: “I am saddened to hear of the passing of Barrett Strong, one of my earliest artists, and the man who sang my first big hit ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ in 1959. Barrett was not only a great singer and piano player, but he, along with his writing partner Norman Whitfield, created an incredible body of work, primarily with the Temptations. Their hit songs were revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times like ‘Cloud Nine’ and the still relevant, ‘Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).’

“My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends,” he continued. “Barrett is an original member of the Motown Family and will be missed by all of us.” More details of Strong’s life and work can be read in this uDiscover Music story.

Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)

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His passing was observed by many admirers of his recorded legacy as both artist and writer. Billy Bragg posted the Temptations’ classic ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)’ and wrote: “Last night – or was it the night before? – the opening riff of this tune was threaded through my dreams. 3 mins and 48 secs of perfection. And now I hear that Barrett Strong, who wrote the song with Norman Whitfield has passed away. Damn.”

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