Some of the great early 60s’ American Motown soul singles were first released in Britain on Oriole-American, including Fingertips by Little Stevie Wonder, You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me by the Miracles, Do You Love Me by the Contours, Two Lovers by Mary Wells and so on. Much more famous later than they were at the time, none of these soul classics found their way into the UK charts. They were distinguished by a black and white rather than a yellow and white Oriole American label. Some people realized the power of Motown early on. I had two schoolfriends who avidly sought out the Tamla-Motown issues (and thanks to Cal Taylor for the scans – the only grubby one, Fingertips, is my copy.) I was keener on Phil Spector and was buying The Ronettes and The Crystals, which are far less sought after.
The Motown link was down to John Schroeder. Part of his deal on joining Oriole from EMI in 1962 was that the label should expand to license American material. He had noted that six or seven of the American Top 100 singles were always Tamla Motown releases (without having heard any of them), and that Tamla had been badly-served by its earlier British connections to London-American, then Philips. He persuaded the label owner, Maurice Levy to let him invite Berry Gordy to London, where Gordy was wined and dined and presented with the concept of Oriole-American. Gordy was careful enough to do the licence deal one year at a time.
Schroeder decided to release three singles simultaneously for impact.
Oriole-American issued nineteen Tamla-Motown singles and seven LPs, the main claim the label has to fame. Among them are some extraordinarily valuable rarities, such as I Found A Girl by The Valadiers (yours for £1000) and Found Myself A Brand New Baby by Mike and The Modifiers which Rare Record Guide rates at £800 mint. Discogs lists just the one sold, at £700. There is a promo advertised at £1750. Mike Valvano was the lead singer. He was from Detroit, but he was also white. The single is regarded because it’s a mix of doo-wop with the sort of choppy guitar beat group backing that would characterize the British invasion two years later.
I Found A Girl was by The Valadiers, another white vocal group. The record, the first Motown release of 1963, had been recorded in 1961, and the group were down to their last two members. It’s another leaning to doo-wop, not soul at all. The prominent bongos were played by Andre Williams, who co-produced it with Clarence Paul. Both of these pricey rarities are atypical Motown, which is probably why they’re rare.
Discogs have never recored a sale of a copy of The Valadiers, probably never having found one. There’s a note on popsike.com on a copy sold at auction for £1042 in 2012. This is the thing about really rare records … you can’t set a price because there aren’t any around. They’re “strictly auction” material.
The label wasn’t only based on Tamla-Motown, and other releases were from the Time label and include the original Devil In His Heart by The Donays, covered by The Beatles on With The Beatles. Then there’s Get Off The Moon (I Was Here First) by the Hugo Montenegro Orchestra and Watermelon Walk by The Five Counts.
Gallery- Oriole American singles … click image to enlarge
As Schroeder says in his autobiography, Sex and Violins (2009), Oriole spent nearly two years promoting Tamla-Motown wholeheartedly to the UK. The main issue was airplay. They had The Big O Show three times a week on Radio Luxembourg, where we first heard the Motown records, but they couldn’t get airplay on the BBC Light Programme … the only option in those days.
(Oriole-American) never stood a chance. Unlike America there were few broadcast outlets in Britain for mainstream pop music, let alone for the rough-edged rattling R&B recordings from Detroit. Sharp was the contrast between the recordings that Oriole vainly marketed and 1962’s biggest UK hits by the likes of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and Acker Bilk.
Adam White & Barney Ales, Motown (Thames & Hudson 2015)
Schroeder quotes Alan Freeman:
Alan Freeman My producer said it would stand out like a sore thumb, even though I was personally hooked. You have my word I will do everything in my power to help you guys get the recognition it truly deserves.
Schroeder also expressed his appreciation for Peter Jones at Record Mirror who regularly devoted space to the Motown issues. The result was that they had just the one hit, Fingertips and that wasn’t Top 30. It’s the single you’re most likely to find too. I have several New Musical Expresses from 1962 and 1963, and the advert for the first three singles came from one. However, I only found one other Oriole-American advert in them.
Berry Gordy was back in the UK in 1963 for more discussions with Schroeder, but had already set up meetings with Decca and EMI. EMI were the more receptive. The deal for EMI’s Stateside label to take over Motown distribution took just three hours over dinner between L.G. Wood of EMI and Berry Gordy. Oriole was out.
As soon as Oriole lost the deal to EMI’s Stateside during 1964, Mary Wells had the breakthrough hit with My Guy. This may be bad luck, or simply acknowledge EMI’s far greater marketing power.
The LP releases are all plain Oriole as with this Martha & The Vandellas LP:
The only albums I’ve ever seen around were by Mary Wells. Another friend had a copy of Two Lovers at the time along with Do You Love Me by The Contours. I recall coveting them. The thing is that Motown was not album oriented and were masters of the two hits, two B-sides and eight fillers approach.
We’ll repeat what we said about Marmalade. We can’t do complete discographies of most labels, but with Oriole American, we can try. The catalogue numbers are part of the general Oriole series. They have standard Oriole sleeves. Releases are mainly either Motown or Time in the USA, except for the last gospel version of O Come All Ye Faithful by Marian Williams, which was Savoy. The Brownie McGhee / Sonny Terry release, also in 1964 says ‘Brent Music’ and Brent was distributed by Time in the USA. Doug Lycett’s After The Heartache was licensed from Arc in Canada.
|1762||You Beat Me To The Punch||Mary Wells||1962|
|1763||Do You Love Me||The Contours||1962|
|1764||Beechwood 4-5789||The Marvelettes||1962|
|1765||Dark Eyes||Hugo Montenegro||1962|
|1769||The Five Counts||Watermelon Walk||1962|
|1770||Devil In His Heart / Bad Boy||The Donays||1962|
|1775||I Found Myself A Brand New Baby||Mike & The Modifiers||1962|
|1782||Let Me Entertain You / Small World||Maury Laws & Orchestra||1962|
|1792||Get Off The Moon (I Was Here First) / Sherry||Hugo Montenegro||1962|
|1795||Two Lovers||Mary Wells||1962|
|1799||Shake Sherry||The Contours||1963|
|1803||Stubborn Kind of Fellow||Marvin Gaye||1963|
|1808||If It’s Love (It’s Alright)||Eddie Holland||1963|
|1809||I Found A Girl||The Valadiers||1963|
|1814||I’ll Have To Let Him Go||Martha & The Vandellas||1963|
|1817||Locking Up My Heart||The Marvelettes||1963|
|1819||Come And Get These Memories||Martha & The Vandellas||1963|
|1823||Heartaches and Happiness||X.Lincoln||1963|
|1824||After The Heartache||Doug Lycett||1963|
|1829||Laughing Boy||Mary Wells||1963|
|1831||Don’t Let Her Be Your Baby||The Contours||1963|
|1846||Pride & Joy||Marvin Gaye||1963|
|1847||Your Old Stand Vy||Mary Wells||1963|
|1853||Fingertips||Little Stevie Wonder||1963|
|1863||Mickey’s Monkey||The Miracles||1963|
|1881||Eefin-Nanny Stomp||Billy Hutch, His Harmonica & orchestra||1963|
|1946||Dissatisfied Woman||Brownie McGhee / Sonny Terry||1964|
|1974||O Come All Ye Faithful||Marian Williams & The Stars of Faith||1964|
So you want to hear some of those rarities and B-sides? It’s not impossible. You can find all the Motown ones on The Complete Motown Singles 1962 and 1963 CD box sets.
The compilations remind us that John Schroeder was selective about his releases, and did not take everything on offer. He skipped early Supremes, Kim Weston, The Temptations, Mabel John, Hitch Hike by Marvin Gaye.
Some of the albums are available … Do You Love Me is on amazon, but it’s an EU reissue, NOT an official Motown one, so taking advantage of the pre-December 1962 lack of copyright in Europe. Unofficial.