Sometimes a big hit can come from small beginnings. On the Billboard Hot 100 for the week of 11 August 1962, there were no fewer than 19 new entries, the last of which peeped out onto the world from the humble position of No. 100. A week later, it had nudged up to No. 94. But it kept on climbing and climbing, and by the end of October, was starting a three-week run at No. 3, as the Motown Records story expanded. That single was on the Gordy label and written and produced by label founder Berry Gordy himself: it was the Contours’ ‘Do You Love Me.’
In the days when pop hits often took ages to travel, and sometimes didn’t make the journey at all, the UK hit version of ‘Do You Love Me’ was snatched by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, who turned it into the first Motown to become a British No. 1 — but not until the following year, and not until they had themselves appropriated a song that had been “imported” by Merseybeat favourites Faron’s Flamingos. It was also a more modest UK hit for the Dave Clark 5, and covered by the Hollies on their first album.
But there was no rivaling the raw energy of the original by the Contours, the six-piece from Detroit who took the song to No. 1 on the US R&B chart for three weeks. There were seven more R&B top 40 hits to come for a group who were always up with the latest dance crazes — they’d mentioned the mashed potato, the twist and others on the signature hit, and would reach No. 15 R&B early in 1965 with ‘Can You Jerk Like Me.’ The Contours also took the Smokey Robinson song ‘First I Look At The Purse’ to No. 12 on that chart later in 1965.
‘Do You Love Me’ was their only pop top 40 success, but it happened twice over. In 1988, after it had featured in the smash hit movie ‘Dirty Dancing,’ the song was embraced by a new generation, reaching No. 11 on the Hot 100.
It was quite a story for a song that, as detailed in Volume 2 of the Complete Motown Singles collection, wasn’t intended for the Contours at all. Berry Gordy had envisaged it as a vehicle for the Temptations’ Paul Williams, but at the crucial moment, they were in church watching gospel greats the Dixie Hummingbirds. The Contours happened to walk into Motown while Gordy was noodling on the piano, and as they got ready to leave, the boss asked if they could record the tune. It was a smart question.
‘Do You Love Me’ is on the expanded 2019 edition of Motown: The Complete No. 1’s, which can be bought here.