The Marvelettes – “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game,” Pop # 13, R&B #2
By Joel Francis
The Marvelettes gave Motown its first No. 1 hit with “Please Mr. Postman,” but that was way back in 1961. But that was five years before “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” came out – a lifetime in pop music. The interceding years weren’t too kind. The group found some follow-up success with “Beechwood 4-5789,” but lost a founding member, and famously passed on “Where Did Our Love Go,” which became the Supremes’ first No. 1 hit.
By the mid-‘60s, the Marvelettes had lost another member. Only the success of greatest hits and live albums were keeping the band tethered to the Motown roster. Then Smokey Robinson entered the picture.
Robinson penned “Don’t Mess With Bill,” the comeback single for the now-trio. His pen also produced “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” sung by Wanda Young, wife of Miracles’ guitarist Bobby Rodgers.
The lyrics are straightforward, but what makes the song is Young’s slinky singing and an equally elastic performance from the Funk Brothers. Check out the great guitar performance holding the whole song together and the great and rare Motown harmonica solo to appear outside of a Stevie Wonder or Shorty Long album.
The Marvelettes found a Top 10 hit with their next single – a remake of Ruby and the Romantics’ “When You’re In Love” – before losing another singer. They carried on with some success, but a full-scale comeback was quashed when the remaining members decided not to follow Berry Gordy to Los Angeles and Young’s pregnancy. After the Marvelettes dissolved, singer Ann Bogan joined New Birth, a soul outfit founded by former Motown staffer Harvey Fuqua.
“The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” has been covered by Ella Fitzgerald, Raconteur Brendan Benson, Jerry Garcia, Blondie and Massive Attack. A reggae cover by Grace Jones reached No. 87 on the R&B charts in 1980.
The Marvelettes – “Beechwood 4-5789” Pop #17, R&B #7
The Marvelletes’ follow-up single wasn’t as successful as “Please Mr. Postman.” Berry Gordy hoped to cash in on the telephone song trend that included Glenn Miller’s earlier big-band hit “Pennsylvania 6-500” and Wilson Pickett’s “634-5789,” but the chorus wasn’t as strong or memorable as either of those songs or the Tommy Tutone’s ‘80s hit “Jenny (867-5309).”
Gladys Horton’s earnest lead vocals sound more desperate than inviting. Although she’s trying to sound casual, it’s clear that Horton’s request for the boy of her dreams to call her up for a date, “any old time” is her frustrated, final attempt at being noticed. While the dream date may never have phone, this number did become the most popular in America until Jenny arrived on the scene in the ‘80s.
The song was written by Marvin Gaye, Berry Gordy and musical director William “Mickey” Stevenson, who was memorialized in The Miracles’ song “Mickey’s Monkey.” Like “Please Mr. Postman,” “Beechwood 4-5789” was also covered by The Carpenters. Time has preserved the superior renderings of both of these songs. — By Joel Francis
The Marvelettes – “Please Mr. Postman” Pop #1, R&B #1
It took six songwriters, but Motown finally, swept the top of the charts with this song. The Marvelettes were a group of high school who entered a 1961 school talent contest for the chance to audition for Motown. While this original performance is certainly memorable, the group definitely isn’t, which is probably why both the Beatles and the Carpenters were successful with their covers.
For the Beatles, the song was a tribute to American Motown music free of specific artistic association (it wasn’t “The Beatles doing Smokey,” like their cover of “You Really Got A Hold On Me”). For the Carpenters, it was a chance to revisit the schoolgirl longing and nostalgia the song represented. (By the way, this entry contains way more than I ever thought I’d write on the Carpenters. Let us promise never to speak of them again.) — by Joel Francis