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Album: released as a singleReleased: 1959Charted:
This lighthearted song about the love of money earned lots of cash for Berry Gordy and helped get his Motown label off the ground. Gordy started Tamla Records in 1959, and "Money" was the eighth single released from the label, and the first to become a hit, making #23 on the Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B charts.
The original release was in August 1959, but the song didn't hit until it was re-released in early 1960 on Anna Records, which was the label formed by Berry's sisters Anna and Gwendolyn Gordy along with the songwriter Billy Davis. Anna Records had a better distribution system in place at the time, which helped promote the single.
Berry Gordy started calling his company "Motown Records" in 1960, and it became one of the most successful and respected labels of all time.
Berry Gordy wrote this song with Janie Bradford, who contributed to Motown as a writer and in an administrative role. She and Gordy had previously written two songs for Jackie Wilson's first album. On "Money," they turn the sentiment "money can't buy happiness" on its head, insisting that the best things in life are not free.
This was the only hit for Barrett Strong as an artist, but he wrote many classic songs with fellow Motown writer Norman Whitfield, including "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone
" and "I Heard It Through the Grapevine
." Growing up, Strong was a member of a gospel group called The Strong Singers. He was just 18 when he recorded "Money."
Motown would eventually develop a house band known as "The Funk Brothers," but in 1959, they were still scrambling for musicians. On this track, Strong played the piano, Benny Benjamin (who became a Motown mainstay) played the drums, Brian Holland (later famous as part of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team) played tambourine, and a white musician named Eugene Grew played guitar. Grew found himself on the session after auditioning for Berry Gordy with his band.
The timing of this song was interesting, as it was a hit amidst the Payola scandal, where disc jockeys were being investigated for taking bribes in exchange for playing records. Berry Gordy was warned that disc jockeys wouldn't play a song about craving cash, but they showed no such reservations.
The lyrics to this song came out of one of Berry Gordy's favorite songwriting techniques: he would ask questions and try to answer them. The question was "What do people want most?" The obvious answer, love, had been done many times before, so money was the choice. According to his co-writer Janie Bradford, Gordy would ask these questions out loud, and she's the one who answered "money - that's what I want" in response. Gordy came up with what would become the first and third verses, and she found the second verse, with the line, "Your love gives me such a thrill, but your love can't pay my bills." In another era, Bradford could have written songs for Destiny's Child
This was one of the first songs recorded at Motown's soon-to-be-famous Studio A, which was part of the two-story house Berry Gordy bought at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit to serve as company headquarters. The studio was a photography studio before Motown took over.
This was used in the 1978 movie Animal House, helping establish it as a frat party staple.
The Beatles covered this in 1963. The Rolling Stones also covered it.
In 1979 the Flying Lizards hit #5 UK with a minimalist cover. Their version was recorded in one day in the band leader David Cunningham's living room. This version was featured in the films The Wedding Singer (1998) and Charlie's Angels (2000).
Flying Lizard's frontman David Cunningham recalled in Mojo magazine March 2008: "We weren't going to get a decent piano sound with our one microphone. So we chucked in things to dampen the strings - an ashtray, a telephone directory. That gave us the percussive piano sound."