The first lady of Motown was experiencing an auspicious moment on December 19, 1960. The artist who had that notable unofficial title, as the first female star produced by the still-emerging company, was Mary Wells, who was making her R&B chart debut with “Bye Bye Baby.”
A few months earlier, the 17-year-old Detroit native Wells had approached Berry Gordy at the city’s popular Twenty Grand club. The precocious singer had written a strident, mid-tempo song called “Bye Bye Baby” (no relation to the later Bob Crewe/Bob Gaudio hit for the Four Seasons). Aware of Gordy’s connections to Jackie Wilson, she was hopeful he could shop the song to the great R&B entertainer. Instead, she ended up with her own record contract.
Gordy invited Wells and her mother to come to Hitsville the very next day, where Mary had an audition and landed a deal with Motown. Berry himself produced her on “Bye Bye Baby,” which became her debut single — but not before he had demanded 22 vocal takes. The strain on her voice is clearly audible in the raucous performance that became Motown 1003.
Sowing the seeds of popularity
The single was released in September 1960 and, on Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides for the issue dated December 19, it gave Wells her first chart appearance at No.29, in a 30-position countdown. ‘Bye Bye Baby’ climbed to No.8 and, although it stalled at No.45 pop, seeds of later popularity were being sown.
The follow-up “I Don’t Want To Take A Chance” was another soul top tenner at No.9 and made the vocalist the first Motown female to reach the pop Top 40, peaking at No.33. Then came the full breakthrough, as 1962’s “The One Who Really Loves You” cracked the Top 10 on both charts, with even greater success around another corner.
‘Bye Bye Baby’ is on the album of the same name, which can be bought here.
Follow uDiscover Music’s Mary Wells Best Of playlist.