They cut you down to size. Or not.

Why did all the pop songs of the ’50s and early ’60s last only three minutes or less? Technological limitations.

As rock and roll music came of age in the 1950s, the 45-RPM record had just been introduced. Like its predecessor, the 78-RPM record, its physical properties would allow no more than about three minutes of music per side, depending on the range of sound required and the depth of the groove in the disc.

That three-minute limitation worked out just fine for a while. Radio stations typically wanted songs that lasted between 2:00-2:30, allowing more songs per hour and more opportunities to sell air time for money-making commercials.

The pop music business had long ago chose to operate under the assumption that the attention span of the average listener was also around the three-minute mark. The rule seemed to be, “Better to keep the songs short and play them repeatedly, and the public will rush to buy them and keep tuning in.”

As the Sixties progressed, however, it seemed as if every norm in society was being questioned and challenged, and the length of a standard pop song was not immune to this phenomenon.

As early as 1959, Ray Charles had recorded a marvelous melange of rhythm and blues, boogie-woogie and gospel called “What’d I Say,” a relentless, irresistible tune featuring the Raelettes on backing vocals. The problem was, it was more than five minutes long. If they wanted to release it as a single, they had two choices: Edit it down to three minutes or less, or cut it in half and put the two parts on two sides of a 45-RPM single. They opted for the latter, with Part 1 (lasting 3:05) as the A-side and Part 2 (lasting 1:59) as the B-side.

Record manufacturers eventually found ways to fit more than just three minutes of music on one side of a 45, and a few artists took advantage of that by releasing ever-longer songs as singles.

In 1964, producer Phil Spector was thrilled with the results of his “Wall of Sound” studio recording of The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” but he was concerned that radio might not want to play it because it lasted 3:45. His solution was to deliberately mislabel the record with a 3:05 length, tricking DJs into thinking it was shorter than it really was.

The real change came in 1965 with Bob Dylan’s titanic song “Like a Rolling Stone” from his iconic “Highway 61 Revisited” LP. The song clocked in at an unheard-of 6:13, and Columbia Records was hesitant to release it as a single. But once pop music clubs and influential DJs and program directors started playing it, the label went ahead and officially released it without any cuts. If it had stiffed on the charts, it probably would’ve been a case of “lesson learned,” and artists wouldn’t attempt such song lengths anytime soon. But against all odds, “Like a Rolling Stone” made it to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, which shattered the length barrier and opened the door to many more longer-than-usual hit singles.

As the less rigid formats of FM radio stations took hold in the late ’60s, artists realized they had a new platform that would play their songs regardless of length. This forced some AM stations to ease up on their restrictions, and suddenly, songs lasting five, six, even seven minutes were climbing the pop charts.

In 1968, actor Richard Harris made his recording debut with a bombastic, near-operatic rendition of Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park,” which lasted 7:21. It was one of those polarizing records that you either loved or hated, but enough people loved it to propel it all the way to #2 that summer. You would think it would’ve been truncated into two parts, or pared down to a more conventional length, but inexplicably, it remained whole.

Also in ’68, The Beatles, who had been breaking so many rules in pop music, released Paul McCartney’s gem “Hey Jude” as their next single. The basic song lasted just over three minutes before they broke into a chorus of “Na na na na-na-na-na” that went on and on and on for another four minutes, for a total running time of 7:11. Some DJs took the liberty of fading out on the interminable ending after maybe a minute or two, but still, the biggest band in the world had now joined the chorus of game-changers who wanted the freedom to create longer singles.

“American Pie,” Don McLean’s 1971 tribute to Buddy Holly and rock music up to that point, was the #1 song in the nation for four weeks in early 1972, despite its 8:42 length. The label broke it into Parts 1 and 2 (4:11 and 4:31) to fit it on a 45, but because of its enormous popularity, nearly every radio station played it in its entirety.

The late Harry Chapin said he often wrote songs cinematically, “which is an uneconomical technique, and that’s why my songs are so long.” His first hit “Taxi,” which reached a respectable #24 on the charts in 1972, ran 6:44. “I literally put you in that cab and let you experience the characters’ loneliness,” he said. “It’s a more involving form of music than sitting and hearing somebody sing ‘I’m lonely.'”

Later in 1972, The Temptations reached the top of the charts with their dramatic piece “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” which ran 7:01. Incredibly, that was an edited version of the original album recording, which lasted just shy of 12 minutes, with a four-minute instrumental intro.

The biggest artists of the ’70s, who usually played by the rules and released conventional-length singles, sometimes wanted to release longer-than-usual songs as singles, and they were rarely denied. Elton John went to #1 in 1975 with “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” (which lasted 6:45), and The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” arguably the most popular song of the decade, ran 6:31. In 1978, “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” Meat Loaf’s mini-opera from his “Bat Out of Hell” album, made the Top 40 despite its 8:28 length (although some stations excised the baseball play-by-play segment that cut the tune to about 5:30).

The above examples notwithstanding, Top 40 radio never really wavered much in their time constraints. If artists and their record labels wanted their 5:00+ songs in front of a mainstream audience, they would have to agree to edited versions. Consequently, many hits of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s were heard in two different lengths — the complete long version, which could be found on the album, and the abbreviated single, which sometimes was edited down to less than half of the original length.

Music aficionados like me hated hearing the butchered version of our favorite long tracks, but we could take solace by spinning the album at home. Casual listeners who didn’t collect albums may have never heard the album renditions of hit songs as the artists had intended…but they probably didn’t care. Many folks preferred their songs shorter and punchier, without the instrumental passages and extended endings.

I have assembled a list of 40 of the more popular songs from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that were truncated (sometimes severely) to make them suitable to Top 40 format. Read ’em and weep, music lovers. Walking amongst you are many thousands of people who have never heard the full versions of iconic songs like “Light My Fire,” “Layla” and “Radar Love”…

**********************

House of the Rising Sun,” The Animals, 1964. Original: 4:29. Single: 2:59.

Sunshine Superman,” Donovan, 1966. Original: 4:34. Single: 3:15.

Rainy Day Women #12 and #35,” Bob Dylan, 1966. Original: 4:36. Single: 2:26.

Light My Fire,” The Doors, 1967. Original: 7:06. Single: 2:52.

Sunshine Of Your Love,” Cream, 1967. Original: 4:08. Single: 3:03.

White Room,” Cream, 1968. Original: 4:58. Single: 3:04.

Magic Carpet Ride,” Steppenwolf, 1968. Original: 4:25. Single: 2:55.

Time Has Come Today,” The Chambers Brothers, 1968. Original: 11:07. Single: 3:05.

Suzie-Q,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1968. Original: 8:37. Single: 4:33.

You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” Blood Sweat & Tears, 1969. Original: 4:19. Single: 3:26.

Spinning Wheel,” Blood Sweat & Tears, 1969. Original: 4:05. Single: 2:39.

Whole Lotta Love,” Led Zeppelin, 1969. Original: 5:33. Single: 3:10.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Crosby Stills and Nash, 1969. Original: 7:28. Single: 4:35.

Make Me Smile,” Chicago, 1970. Original: 3:16 + 1:26 reprise = 4:42. Single: 2:58.

I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home),” Grand Funk Railroad, 1970. Original: 10:09. Single: 5:31.

All Right Now,” Free, 1970. Original: 5:31. Single: 4:14.

Green-Eyed Lady,” Sugarloaf, 1970. Original: 6:53. Single: 3:33.

Black Magic Woman,” Santana, 1970. Original: 5:20. Single: 3:16.

Beginnings,” Chicago, 1971. Original: 7:54. Single: 2:50.

Signs,” Five Man Electrical Band, 1971. Original: 4:05. Single: 3:20.

Layla,” Derek and the Dominos, 1971. Original: 7:04. Single: 2:43.

Won’t Get Fooled Again,” The Who, 1971. Original: 8:31. Single: 3:40.

Roundabout,” Yes, 1972. Original: 8:36. Single: 3:37.

Freddie’s Dead,” Curtis Mayfield, 1972. Original: 5:27. Single: 3:17.

Hold Your Head Up,” Argent, 1972. Original: 6:15. Single: 3:15.

Nights in White Satin,” The Moody Blues, 1972. Original: 7:38. Single: 4:26.

Radar Love,” Golden Earring, 1973. Original: 6:27. Single: 3:43.

Piano Man,” Billy Joel, 1973. Original: 5:40. Single: 4:30.

Give It to Me,” J. Geils Band, 1973. Original: 6:32. Single: 3:07.

Free Bird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1974. Original: 9:08. Single: 4:41.

Miracles,” Jefferson Starship, 1975. Original: 6:52. Single: 3:25.

Carry On Wayward Son,” Kansas, 1976. Original: 5:26. Single: 3:26.

Got to Give It Up,” Marvin Gaye, 1977. Original: 11:52. Single: 4:12.

Heroes,” David Bowie, 1977. Original: 6:07. Single: 3:32.

Disco Inferno,” The Trammps, 1977. Original: 10:54. Single: 3:35.

Who Are You,” The Who, 1978. Original: 6:20. Single: 3:24,

Rapture,” Blondie, 1981. Original: 6:31. Single: 4:58.

I Can’t Go for That,” Hall and Oates, 1981. Original: 5:09. Single: 3:45.

Edge of Seventeen,” Stevie Nicks, 1981. Original: 5:28. Single: 4:10.

Rock the Casbah,” The Clash, 1982. Original: 6:35. Single: 3:42.

Eye in the Sky,” Alan Parsons Project, 1982. Original: 4:36. Single: 3:55.

Let’s Dance,” David Bowie, 1983. Original: 7:37. Single: 4:08.

Here Comes the Rain Again,” Eurythmics, 1984. Original: 4:56. Single: 3:51.

Touch of Grey,” Grateful Dead, 1987. Original: 5:50. Single: 4:35.

**********************

Also part of the rock music scene in this era were the bands that had little or no interest in the singles market. They preferred to write and record extraordinarily long songs, or suites of songs, that challenged the serious listener. The underground and college FM stations might play them, but mostly, they were there on the albums for those who enjoyed diving in to lengthy, complicated works.

I’m referring only to studio recordings here. Many bands have released live recordings through the years that lasted 10-15 minutes or more (Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead, for example), but they were often conventional length studio songs they had stretched out in concert.

Below you’ll find a healthy sampling of extended studio recordings that I find worthy of your attention.

***********************

Desolation Row,” Bob Dylan, 1965. (11:21)

Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” Bob Dylan, 1966. (11:23)

A Quick One, While He’s Away,” The Who, 1966. (9:10)

The End,” The Doors, 1967. (11:43)

When the Music’s Over,” The Doors, 1967. (10:59)

Alice’s Restaurant Massacree,” Arlo Guthrie, 1967. (18:35)

Viola Lee Blues,” Grateful Dead, 1967. (10:15)

Alligator,” Grateful Dead, 1967. (11:20)

A Saucerful of Secrets,” Pink Floyd, 1968. (11:57)

1983 (A Merman I should Turn to Be),” Jimi Hendrix, 1968. (13:39)

Voodoo Chile,” Jimi Hendrix, 1968. (14:59)

In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida,” Iron Butterfly, 1968. (17:04)

Moonchild,” King Crimson, 1969. (12:12)

In the Court of the Crimson King,” King Crimson, 1969. (10:02)

Lizard,” King Crimson, 1970. (23:19)

Child in Time,” Deep Purple, 1970. (10:20)

I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1970. (11:02)

Take a Pebble,” Emerson, Lake and Palmer, 1970. (12:32)

Tarkus,” Emerson, Lake and Palmer, 1971. (20:38)

The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” Traffic, 1971. (11:41)

Echoes,” Pink Floyd, 1971. (23:32)

The Musical Box,” Genesis, 1971. (10:25)

Thick As a Brick,” Jethro Tull, 1972. (43:50)

Close to the Edge,” Yes, 1972. (18:38)

Supper’s Ready,” Genesis, 1972. (23:05)

A Passion Play,” Jethro Tull, 1973. (45:06)

Lady Fantasy,” Camel, 1973. (12:45)

Grey Day,” Jesse Colin Young, 1974. (11:19)

The Gates of Delirium,” Yes, 1974. (21:49)

Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” Pink Floyd, 1975. (25:58)

High Falls,” Allman Brothers Band, 1975. (14:27)

Baker St. Muse,” Jethro Tull, 1975. (16:39)

2112,” Rush, 1976. (20:33)

Paprika Plains,” Joni Mitchell, 1977. (16:21)

Awaken,” Yes, 1977. (15:31)

*************************

There are three Spotify playlists below. The first (“Let it last longer”) includes the songs mentioned in the essay text that pushed the barriers of how long a hit single could be. The second (“They cut you down to size”) includes both the original and edited versions (those available on Spotify) of most of the songs listed that were released in both lengths. The third (“Lonnnnnnng rock tracks”) includes the extra-long tracks I referred to at the end of the post.

Think it oh-oh-ver, think it oh-oh-ver

One of the least discussed but (for me) most satisfying moments of the recent Grammy Awards show was the performance by the new “super-duo” calling themselves Silk Sonic. Bruno Mars and rapper/singer/producer Anderson.Paak have pooled their talents to come up with a marvelous ’70s soul sound exemplified by their single “Leave the Door Open.” (I’m including it as a bonus track at the end of the Spotify playlist below.)

It reminded me how much I enjoyed soul music in that sweet decade of 1964-1974. The talented vocal groups of Detroit Motown, Memphis Stax/Atlantic and “Philly Soul” were a crucial part of that musically fertile period. Funny thing, though — the great songs of that era seemed to be far better known for the music than the lyrics, which often focused rather narrowly on the flip sides of romantic relationships (betrayal and devotion).

As a guy who loves quoting memorable rock music lyrics, I thought that for this latest edition of Hack’s Back Pages Lyrics Quiz, it might be a fun challenge for readers to test their ability to recall lyrics of classic hits by soul artists. I’ve come up with 25 lines from some of the better known soul tunes of the ’60s and ’70s for you to identify. Write down your answers on a piece of paper, then scroll down to see how you did, and read a little bit about each of these memorable songs.

Enjoy!

***************************

1. “So take a good look at my face, you’ll see my smile looks out of place…”

2. “There’s no exception to the rule, listen baby, /It may be factual, may be cruel…”

3. “Comin’ to you on a dusty road, /Good lovin’, I got a truckload…”

4. “Folks say papa never was much on thinking, spent most of his time chasing women and drinking, /Mama, I’m depending on you to tell me the truth…”

5. “Ooh, your kisses, sweeter than honey, /And guess what? So is my money…”

6. “Don’t let the handshake and the smile fool ya, /Take my advice, I’m only tryin’ to school ya…”

7. “Like a fool I went and stayed too long, /Now I’m wondering if your love’s still strong, ooh baby, here I am…”

8. “Sometimes in our lives, we all have pain, we all have sorrow, /But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow…”

9. “But all you do is treat me bad, break my heart and leave me sad, /Tell me, what did I do wrong to make you stay away so long…”

10. “Every minute, every hour, I’m gonna shower you with love and affection, /Look out, it’s coming in your direction…”

11. “Who is the man who would risk his neck for his brother man?…”

12. “I can build a castle from a single grain of sand, I can make a ship sail, huh, on dry land…”

13. “Now if you feel that you can’t go on, because all of your hope is gone, /And your life is filled with much confusion, until happiness is just an illusion…”

14. “Father, father, we don’t need to escalate, /You see, war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate…”

15. “When I call your name, girl, it starts to flame, burning in my heart, tearing it all apart, /No matter how I try, my love I cannot hide…”

16. “Today I saw somebody who looked just like you, /She walked like you do, I thought it was you…”

17. “Now if there’s a smile on my face, it’s only there trying to fool the public, /But when it comes down to fooling you, now honey, that’s quite a different subject…”

18. “Remember the day I set you free, I told you you could always count on me, darling…”

19. “For once I can touch what my heart used to dream of, long before I knew someone warm like you would make my dreams come true…”

20. “I don’t need no money, fortune or fame, /I’ve got all the riches, baby, one man can claim…”

21. “Why don’t you be a man about it and set me free? /Now, you don’t care a thing about me, you’re just using me…”

22. “I know a man ain’t supposed to cry, but these tears I can’t hold inside, /Losin’ you would end my life, you see, ’cause you mean that much to me…”

23. “When my soul was in the lost and found, you came along to claim it…”

24. “You been running all over the town now, /Oh, I guess I’ll have to put your flat feet on the ground…”

25. “Somebody’s out to get your lady, /A few of your buddies, they sure look shady…”

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

****************************

ANSWERS:

1. “The Tracks of My Tears,” The Miracles, 1965

Robinson has said he was looking in his bathroom mirror one morning and thought, “What if someone cried so much that you could see the tracks left from the tears on their face?” That became the lyrical concept, partnered with Miracles guitarist Marv Tarplin’s melody, for this classic slice of Motown gold, which peaked at #16 for them in 1965. Ten years later, Linda Ronstadt recorded her own take on the iconic tune, reaching #25.

2. “Everybody Plays the Fool,” The Main Ingredient, 1972

This Harlem-based vocal group lost its lead singer to leukemia in 1970 and was replaced by Cuba Gooding, whose son would later become an Oscar-winning actor. The Main Ingredient had their biggest success with this song by seasoned songwriter Rudy Clark (who also wrote The Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” among others), who had written it with Charley Pride in mind. But Pride thought it was more pop than country, so these guys took a stab at it and found themselves with a #3 hit in the autumn of 1972. Aaron Neville’s 1990 rendition was a #8 hit as well.

3. “Soul Man,” Sam and Dave, 1967

Singer-songwriter Isaac Hayes came up with this song after watching a news broadcast about riots in Detroit where buildings owned by Blacks were marked with the spray-painted word “soul” to spare them from vandalism. “The song became kind of like boasting, ‘I’m a soul man,'” said Hayes. “It was a pride thing.” Sam Moore and Dave Prater turned it into a #2 hit on pop charts, and The Blues Brothers revived it as their signature song in 1978 on “Saturday Night Live” and subsequent LP, “A Briefcase Full of Blues.”

4. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” The Temptations, 1972

Many people don’t know that this hugely popular #1 single, which pushed pop radio boundaries at more than seven minutes in length, actually clocked in at 11:44 in the original album version (included in the Spotify playlist below). Producer Norman Whitfield gave it textures and instrumental passages that set a somewhat forbidding atmosphere for the downcast story of a young man’s memories of life in a broken home. Dennis Edwards sang lead but the others took turns singing bass and falsetto to give voice to the narrators’ siblings. A truly remarkable recording top to bottom.

5. “Respect,” Aretha Franklin, 1967

This may be the most famous song on this list, as iconic as they come. After wallowing for years at Columbia Records, she switched to Atlantic and knocked us all off our feet with her fabulous takes on riveting R&B material. Otis Redding had already put this song on the map, but when Franklin sang it, it transformed into an anthem for the burgeoning women’s movement and became her signature song for decades to come.

6. “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” The Undisputed Truth, 1971

Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote this one and gave it to The Temptations, who were undergoing a lineup change as Eddie Kendricks was going solo. They dragged their feet on releasing it, so the up-and-coming group The Undisputed Truth made their own recording and stole the spotlight on the charts, reaching #3 in the summer of 1971, but they never reached the pop charts again. You might check out The Tempts’ version, which (again) goes on for 12 minutes.

7. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” Stevie Wonder, 1970

Wonder wrote this one with a little help from his mother Lula Hardaway, who, upon hearing him toying with the melody, exclaimed, “I love that! Ooh, signed, sealed and delivered, I’m yours!” This single marked Stevie’s first time as producer, a role he would retain for the rest of his exemplary career. The song reached #3 in 1970, and since then, many dozens of covers have been recorded, including ones Peter Frampton, Jermaine Jackson, Chaka Khan and Michael McDonald.

8. “Lean On Me,” Bill Withers, 1972

After first hitting the charts with the angst-ridden “Ain’t No Sunshine” in 1971, Withers could afford to move to Los Angeles to continue his career, but he missed the tight-knit community of his hometown of Slab Fork, West Virginia. “I started thinking about how we all leaned on each other for love and support, and the song came out as I played some basic scales on piano,” Withers recalled. The result was a #1 song for three weeks in July 1972.

9. “Baby Love,” The Supremes, 1964

Unbelievably catchy, this classic by Holland/Dozier/Holland was the one that truly established The Supremes as a singles powerhouse on pop radio, particularly as their songs faced off against The Beatles’ initial run of chart-toppers in 1964. “Where Did Our Love Go” came before it, but “Baby Love” proved they weren’t a flash in the pan, and indeed, they went on to have five consecutive #1s, which had never been achieved before.

10. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” The Supremes & The Temptations, 1969

Written by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Jerry Ross, this song was first recorded by Dee Dee Warwick in 1966 and then by Madeline Bell in 1968, both with only minimal impact. But when The Temptations and The Supremes chose to team up for an album and TV special in late 1968, this was the song from the album that radio stations chose to play, even though it hadn’t been performed on the show and wasn’t the intended single. Once officially released as a single, it vaulted all the way to #2 on pop charts in early 1969, featuring Diana Ross and Eddie Kendricks trading off on lead vocals.

11. “Theme From Shaft,” Isaac Hayes, 1971

Hayes had been a pivotal producer/songwriter/arranger at Stax Records since its inception. In his first attempt at film scoring, he scored a hit with the quasi-funk/soul soundtrack for the Richard Rountree detective flick “Shaft” in 1971. The theme song was more instrumental than vocal, but it was nonetheless a huge hit, reaching #1 and scoring an Oscar for Best Song.

12. “I Can’t Get Next to You,” The Temptations, 1969

Immediately identified by opening applause cut short by Dennis Edwards saying,”Hold it, hold it, listen,” followed by the piano intro and horn section, “I Can’t Get Next to You” was a gigantic hit for The Temptations in the fall of ’69. Another Norman Whitfield/Barrett Strong composition, it featured each of the group’s different voices taking turns on lead. I’m also fond of the excellent cover version Annie Lennox recorded in 1995.

13. “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops, 1966

There’s an undeniable feeling of dread to the way this track begins — minor chords, echo and innovative percussion — followed by a shift to major chords to release the tension. The anguished pleading of lead singer Levi Stubbs, achieved by making him sing in a key that was right at the top of his vocal range, really makes the record. For me, this is The Four Tops at their very best.

14. “What’s Going On,” Marvin Gaye, 1971

Widely considered his masterpiece, “What’s Going On” is a sonic breakthrough and a lyrical cry for our future on the planet. “With the world exploding all around me, how am I supposed to keep singing love songs?” he said. “I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people.” Gaye’s singing and songwriting were at their best for the title track (which ranked #4 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time), while “Mercy Mercy Me” and “Inner City Blues” weren’t far behind.

15. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” The Four Tops, 1965

Another marquis song in the Motown canon is this spirited tune by the Holland/Dozier/Holland songwriting and producing team. Using a similar chord progression to “Where Did Our Love Go,” which they’d written for The Supremes the previous year, the H/D/H trio struck gold again for The Four Tops, who put this song at #1 on the pop charts for two weeks, and #1 on the R&B charts for nine weeks, in the summer of ’65.

16. “You Are Everything,” The Stylistics, 1971

Thom Bell, co-creator of the Philly sound, came up with this passionate ballad for The Stylistics, one of the bands on his Philly Int’l label. The falsetto voice of Russell Thompkins Jr. was the defining characteristic of the group’s sound on this and other hits they charted in the early ’70s. “You Are Everything” reached #4 on pop charts, and a cover of the song by Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross on 1973’s “Diana & Marvin” LP reached #5 in England.

17. “The Tears of a Clown,” Smokey and The Miracles, 1970

Stevie Wonder and producer Henry Cosby had written and recorded the instrumental track for this tune in 1967, but Wonder couldn’t come up with a lyric for it. He asked for help from Smokey Robinson, who heard the calliope-like section and thought of a clown in the circus, hiding his sadness behind a smile. The Miracles recorded it as an album track, and then three years later, after Motown’s British subsidiary released it to great success, it was released as a single in the US, where it became their final #1 hit.

18. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1967

This unforgettable song served as the entree into Motown for the songwriting team of Nikolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, and was also the initial pairing of Gaye with singer Tammi Terrell. Gaye was a seasoned recording artist by then, which intimidated Terrell so much that her part and Gaye’s were actually recorded separately and grafted together by producer Harvey Fuqua. It peaked at #19 in 1967 but has since reached iconic status, used in film soundtracks like “Remember the Titans” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” A slower, melodramatic, partly spoken version by Diana Ross made it to #1 in 1970.

19. “For Once in My Life,” Stevie Wonder, 1968

Originally written as a slow ballad and recorded that way by the Four Tops and The Temptations, it was recorded in 1967 in an uptempo arrangement by Stevie Wonder, but Motown head Berry Gordy didn’t like it and withheld it from release for more than a year. It reached #2 on the pop and R&B charts in late 1968 and became a standard, covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and other crooners. The record is mentioned by bass players everywhere as the perfect example of James Jamerson’s unparalleled bass-playing style.

20. “My Girl,” The Temptations, 1964

Written by Smokey Robinson and fellow Miracle Ronald White, “My Girl” was written about Robinson’s wife Claudette and was set to be the next Miracles single, but instead, he produced it with The Temptations. Although Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams typically sang lead vocals, Robinson insisted he wanted David Ruffin to sing it, “featuring his gruff voice on a sweet melody.” It became not only the group’s first #1 hit but their signature song ever since.

21. “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” The Supremes, 1966

Lamont Dozier, in collaboration with Brian and Eddie Holland, incorporated a Morse code-like guitar riff into the arrangement for this magnificent R&B #1 hit they wrote for The Supremes. It became one of the most often covered songs in the Motown catalog — Vanilla Fudge did a slow-tempo, hard rock version in 1967 that made the Top Ten; British singer Kim Wilde returned the song to #1 with a supercharged electronic dance music rendition; and country artist Reba McEntire offered up a Supremes replication in 1995.

22. “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye, 1968

This awesome tune by Motown songwriting duo Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong was recorded first by The Miracles, but only as an album track. Gladys Knight & The Pips had a big #2 hit with their funky arrangement in 1967, but Gaye’s haunting version eclipsed them both, holding down the #1 spot for seven weeks in 1968-69, making it the most successful song in Motown history. It was later turned into a 10-minute rock interpretation by Creedence in 1970.

23. “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” Aretha Franklin, 1967

Atlantic Records chief Jerry Wexler had been reading about the philosophical concept of “the natural man” when he ran into Carole King in New York one day. On the spot, he asked her to write a song about “the natural woman” for Franklin’s next album, so she and husband/songwriter partner Gerry Goffin went home and wrote this iconic tune that night. It became a #8 pop hit (#2 on R&B charts) for Aretha. King later recorded her own version for her 1971 epic LP “Tapestry.”

24. “Mustang Sally,” Wilson Pickett, 1966

R&B singer-songwriter Mack Rice wrote and recorded this song in 1965 not long after a friend told him he wanted to get a sporty Ford Mustang, which had just been introduced the previous year. Originally titled “Mustang Mama” about a woman who wanted only to ride around in her new car, he chose to change Mama to Sally because of the use of the line “Ride, Sally, ride” in the middle verses. Pickett reached #23 on the pop charts with his version.

25. “Back Stabbers,” The O’Jays, 1972

Inspired by the theme of betrayal used effectively in “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” Leon Huff came up with “Back Stabbers” for The O’Jays’ first single on Huff’s and Kenny Gamble’s new label, Philadelphia International. It was the beginning of a long and successful relationship between the vocal group and the label, followed by “Love Train, “For the Love of Money” and many more.

****************************