In today’s TimNeelyStuff excerpt from The Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s, we show how, sometimes, one person was able to keep a potential hit unheard for more than two years. Once the right person – in this case, Berry Gordy Jr., the president of Motown Records – heard that rejected recording, he immediately ordered it to be prepared for release. It gave Martha and the Vandellas one of their biggest hits. It says something about Motown that a song recorded in 1964 and put aside could still sound fresh and contemporary in 1967.
Jimmy Mack / Martha & the Vandellas / Gordy G-7058
(Total points: 1,055 / Chart debut: 2/25/1967 / Chart peak: 10 / Weeks on chart: 14)
The third of five Martha & the Vandellas singles to appear in the Top 1,000 Hits of the 1960s, “Jimmy Mack” might never have made it out at all if Martha Reeves hadn’t felt ignored by the Motown powers that be.
She and her group had had four Top 10 pop hits in slightly more than a year and a half, from September 1963 through April 1965. But their singles had stopped selling since then, and Reeves thought that her usual production team of Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier were putting all their effort into the Supremes and none into her. Label president Berry Gordy wanted to see if she was right, so he had the producers empty the vaults just to make sure. One of the outtakes Gordy heard was a recording completed on June 18, 1964, almost two years before this 1966 meeting – “Jimmy Mack.”
Co-writer Dozier composed most of “Jimmy Mack” after a BMI Songwriters Award dinner in late 1963. One of the honorees was the late Ronnie Mack, who had died of Hodgkin’s disease at age 23, shortly after a song he wrote, “He’s So Fine,” became a #1 hit for the Chiffons. When Dozier returned from the event, at which Mack’s mother had accepted the award for her son, he was so moved that, as he sat at the piano, the opening words of the song poured out.
According to Dozier, “Jimmy Mack” had never been played at the weekly Motown quality control meetings because the head of the department, Billie Jean Brown, didn’t like the song and refused to submit it for consideration. Gordy gave Brown a good talking-to, telling her never to let that happen again, and preparations began to get the song released.
Initially, “Jimmy Mack” was a cut on the Martha & the Vandellas LP Watchout! This was the version that had been finished on June 18, 1964. When Motown decided to give the song a chance as a single, the label went back to an even older recording, made on March 2, 1964, rather than releasing the album version. Handclaps and more vocals by Motown’s all-purpose female background singers, The Andantes, were added on January 17, 1967.
Finally issued as a single on February 3, Billboard boldly predicted in its February 18 issue that it would make the top 20, following up the recent Top 10 hit “I’m Ready for Love,” which actually was recorded in 1966, the same year it was released. “Jimmy Mack” debuted on February 25 and eventually spent three straight weeks at #10 in April. It also would hit #1 on the R&B charts.
“Jimmy Mack” was the last Top 10 single for Martha & the Vandellas. In late 1967, Motown re-christened the group “Martha Reeves and the Vandellas,” but they had only one Top 20 single under that name, “I’m Ready for Love.” Infighting and other issues led to the group splitting in 1972; Reeves recorded some solo music, but none caught the public’s fancy. More recently, the group has reunited for some concerts and special occasions.
Collector’s note: Most copies of “Jimmy Mack” feature the newer Gordy label design, with the word “Gordy” at the left inside a large “G” and a sideways yellow triangle going from left to right through the center hole. One uncommon edition has the old-style “Gordy” logo with the “It’s what’s in the grooves that count” slogan at the top. An even stranger pressing has the type laid out like the newer logo is supposed to be on the label, but instead, the old logo is sideways at the left!
Fast fact: Annette Beard, one of the Vandellas on their older hits but no longer in the group by 1967, appears on “Jimmy Mack” because it was recorded before she left the group in 1964.