The December 26, 1964 issue of Billboard (available online via Google Books) features another promotional “battle” of sorts — this time, pitting the first Queen of Motown against the record label’s newest Golden Girls.
Mary Wells, of course, began the year as Motown’s biggest star, ascending to new heights when “My Guy” topped the Billboard Hot 100. In his memoirs To Be Loved, Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. wrote of the singer, “Mary was hot. All the producers wanted to record anything on her — they didn’t give a damn what it was. Whether it was an A side, B side or just a tune in one of her albums, they knew it would make money” (186).
But in the wake of “My Guy” — the peak of her success — Wells decided to leave Motown. Losing their top star was a major blow to Gordy and company, who fought to keep the singer from jumping ship. But as legal wrangling dragged on, the group formerly known as the “no-hit Supremes” finally broke through in a big way: “Where Did Our Love Go” became the first #1 hit for Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard in August, elevating The Supremes to Motown’s top-tier status. Label focus shifted squarely onto the group, and by October, Wells was officially an artist with 20th Century Fox Records.
Thus, in the last Billboard issue of 1964, the former labelmates squared off in full-page “Seasons Greetings” ads placed by different record companies. “Use Your Head” (a bouncy tune which bears more than few hallmarks of “The Motown Sound) was a moderate hit for Mary Wells, climbing into the pop top 40, but the singer’s tenure on 20th Century Fox was brief and she ended up bouncing around to a few other labels. The Supremes, of course, would have a very Happy New Year — 1965 would bring three more #1 hits and a triumphant opening at New York’s top club, the Copacabana.