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‘He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’’: The Velvelettes Say Somethin’ Soulful

The late 1964 single was nothing like the big hit it deserved to be, but it became a much-loved Hitsville highlight.

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Velvelettes photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Velvelettes photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

One of the landmark songs among Motown’s great girl groups arrived in record stores in the US on December 28, 1964. Even if the Velvelettes’ original of “He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’” was nothing like as a big a hit as it deserved to be, it became a much-loved Hitsville highlight and inspired several covers.

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The song came from a triumvirate of the label’s finest writing talents, with the young Norman Whitfield joining forces for its smart lyric and superior melody with “Mickey” Stevenson and Eddie Holland. Whitfield, 24 years old and an emerging talent at Motown, produced, and the Velvelettes were happy to see the company release the single as the follow-up to their moderate hit “Needle In A Haystack.”

The first version of the song, recorded in November 1964, was discarded, but another pass at it a month later provided the final take. The 45, on Motown’s V.I.P. label, was backed with “Throw A Farewell Kiss,” a song written by Whitfield and Eddie Holland that had originally been assigned to Freddie Gorman. The track was recorded fully two years earlier, before the Velvelettes were dubbed onto it for their single flipside.

Sayin’ somethin’ sophisticated

The Detroit songbirds never did quite fulfilled their promise in commercial terms, and “Sayin’ Somethin’” proved perhaps a little too sophisticated for some tastes, peaking at No.21 R&B and No.64 on the Hot 100. Towards the end of 1965, it was anglicised by The Herd, as “She Was Really Sayin’ Somethin,’” but their version misssed the UK chart, no doubt to the relief of Motown purists.

Listen to the 60s Motown playlist.

Back on that label, the Marvelettes cut the song for their self-titled 1967 album, but it didn’t become a top ten hit until British girl trio Bananarama remade it as “Really Saying Something” in 1982. Featuring fellow chart act the Fun Boy Three, their version climbed to No.5 in the UK. But it was the Velvelettes who were really sayin’ somethin’ all along.

Buy or stream “He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’” on The Very Best of the Velvelettes.

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