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‘Two Lovers’: Mary Wells Lands Smokey Robinson’s One-Two Punch

The first queen of Motown followed her opening R&B No. 1 with a second soul chart-topper in a row.

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Photo: Motown/EMI Hayes Archives

Mary Wells‘ first R&B No. 1 was with ‘You Beat Me To The Punch,’ and she was delivering a one-two punch of her own on 29 October 1962. That was the day that the first queen of Motown released the follow-up single, ‘Two Lovers,’ and watched it repeat the feat to give her two soul chart-toppers in a row.

‘Punch’ was written by Smokey Robinson with his Miracles colleague Ron White, but for the new release, Smokey was the sole composer and producer. The song was cut in early August, with ‘Operator,’ which had been taped in February, becoming its flip side. That later became a signature hit for Brenda Holloway.

The release date was perfectly scheduled for the Detroit native Wells, as Motown’s first national revue show, the Motor Town Special, had started its motors just three days earlier, on 26 October in Washington. It was some package, featuring all of the label’s acts that had charted during 1962. Along with Wells, they were the Miracles, the Marvelettes, the Temptations, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye.

The tour also featured three artists who were yet to make their chart debut: Martha and the Vandellas, Singin’ Sammy Ward and, on the opening dates, Little Stevie Wonder. The Motor Town Special was the perfect setting for Mary to sing a typically clever Smokey lyric, not about two suitors but one, who is sometimes “sweet and kind” and on other occasions “treats me bad, makes me sad.”

‘Two Lovers’ climbed the charts over the ensuing weeks and spent no fewer than four weeks atop the R&B survey from mid-January, 1963, also hitting No. 7 on the Hot 100. A cover version soon followed by teen idol Bobby Rydell, and among those remaking ‘Two Lovers’ in later years was Dolly Parton, in a perhaps surprising inclusion on her 1987 album Rainbow.

‘Two Lovers’ is on Mary Wells’ The Definitive Collection, which can be bought here.

Follow the Best Motown Songs Ever playlist.

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