Smokey Robinson Conjures Marvelettes Hit

The group that landed Motown’s first-ever No.1 and became the company’s first major girl group were still enjoying substantial success half a dozen years later. The Marvelettes, the Inkster, Michigan team who rang that early bell with “Please Mr. Postman,” only crossed over to the Top 10 of the pop chart twice more, but went on to amass ten R&B Top 10 singles. The last of them, “My Baby Must Be A Magician,” written and produced by Smokey Robinson, entered Billboard’s Hot 100 on December 16, 1967.

As often happened at the time, the Tamla single made that pop debut, at No.78, two weeks before it showed on the R&B listing. It did so at the end of what went down as one of the group’s most memorable years. Earlier in 1967 they had twice made the winner’s circle of the soul listings.

Marvelettes in 1967: it was a very good year

The first was another urbane Robinson composition, “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game,” which spent three weeks at No.2 and was followed by Van McCoy’s feelgood No.9 copyright “When You’re Young And In Love.” Both releases had some crossover pop recognition, peaking at Nos. 13 and 23 respectively, and “When You’re Young” also became the Marvelettes” only UK chart single, peaking at No.13.

As on those singles, “My Baby Must Be A Magician” had lead vocals by the Marvelettes’ Wanda Rogers. She had taken over from the group’s then-pregnant and newly departed original lead, Gladys Horton, with Anne Bogan joining the line-up. It featured the extra selling point of a spoken introduction by the uncredited, but distinctive, bass voice of the Temptations, Melvin Franklin. “You are under my power,” he intoned ominously. “It is the power of love.”

Marv Tarplin’s guitar features further embellished the song’s descending chord sequence and richly orchestrated arrangement. Backing vocals by the Andantes (but not the other Marvelettes) and the peerless instrumentation of the Funk Brothers completed the perfect picture.

‘Pulling a smash out of the Robinson hat’

“Guitar gimmickry and particularly solid vocal strength add extra magic to the Marvelettes’ sales impact for this side,” wrote Cashbox. “Fine dance outing and especially fine material make for some tremendous pop & r&b action for ‘My Baby Must Be A Magician.’ The side’s splendid side touches do the trick in pulling a smash out of the Robinson hat.”

The trade magazine was on the money, as “Magician” climbed to No.8 R&B and No.17 pop. Sadly, it proved to be the Marvelettes’ last hit of such magnitude, and after two more soul chart entries in 1968, their name disappeared from the bestsellers. The single featured on the fine LP Sophisticated Soul, which lived up to its name by updating the group’s sound with a couple of Ashford & Simpson songs augmenting the lion’s share by Smokey.

Listen to the best of the Marvelettes on Apple Music and Spotify.


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