The Marvelettes – “Don’t Mess With Bill,” Pop #7, R&B #3
The three years between this hit and the Marvelettes’ previous chart entry, “Beechwood 4-5789,” saw them slide from Barry Gordy’s go-to girl group to third fiddle behind Martha and the Vandellas and the Supremes. After passing on “Where Did Our Love Go,” which became a hit for the Supremes, they finally found success with this Smokey Robinson number.
Lyrically, this relationship may not be the most stable: Bill has put tears in lead singer Wanda Young’s eyes “a thousand times or more.” But “every time he would apologize/I loved him more than before.” Furthermore, Young isn’t sure Bill will come back; that said, she wants no competition.
The vocal deliveries may not be threatening, but the slinky organ underpinning the melody and saxophone solo add an element of danger. Any girl that’s tough enough to put up with what Bill hands out can definitely hold her own. – by Joel Francis
3 thoughts on “The Marvelettes – “Don’t Mess With Bill””
This is top level Smokey Robinson produced material on the Marvelettes. I’ve always heard the blaring sax solo as two feline alley cats fighting to the death over this cat Bill. Can’t be beat for sophisticated soul!
Well said, Mark. Thanks for reading.
If it hadn’t been for Gladys Horton, we would never have heard of a group called The Marvelettes, I’m sure. Despite her tender years, from “Postman” forward, she sounded like one of the most confident female Motown singers of all, and among the most talented.
That said, it must be acknowledged that when Smokey Robinson turned his attention to the group, and specifically, Wanda Young, the sex appeal of The Marvelettes shot through the roof. He obviously listened to the devotion that Brian Holland had drew from Wanda on “Forever,” and from that foundation, determined to bring forward the sex kitten and seductress that was part of the woman too.
He succeeded. Brilliantly. “Bill,” “Hunter,” “Magician,” “You’re The One,” and “Here I Am Baby” are some sexiest female records Motown ever released. No healthy young male could hear Wanda’s siren song without thinking it’s time to get …er, let’s say, pollinating. Where the group might have petered out earlier, Smokey kept them relevant and very entertaining till the end of decade.