John was big; John was bad, and he had made a recording star out of a future pork sausage king. “Big Bad John” by Jimmy Dean had topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart for five weeks, but its reign came to an end when the Motown Label had its first number one pop hit fifty years ago this week.
The Marvels were a female rhythm & blues female vocal group from Inkster High School in Inkster, Michigan. The early group line-up consisted of Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Marie Tillman, Wanda Young, Katherine Anderson, and Juanita Cowart Young. They entered a talent contest where the top three places would gain an audition with the Motown label. They finished fourth but were invited to the try-out anyway, and so The Marvelettes were born.
Their first release for Motown subsidiary Tamla would prove historic for the label as it would reach number one on the pop charts, the first single to do so in the label’s long and storied history. The drummer on the original recording was future star Marvin Gaye.
“Please Mr. Postman” was typical of many of the hits The Supremes and Martha and The Vandellas would produce down through the years for the label. It had tight harmonies backing Horton’s lead vocal, a funky instrumental track that served as a counterpoint for the pop oriented vocals, plus in this case told the story of a girlfriend waiting for a letter from her boyfriend who was away at war. It all added up to a memorable radio song of the pre-Beatles era. It also proved that a good song is always a good song as the Carpenters took it to number one again during 1975.
The Marvelettes managed to issue a very modern sounding song, especially when compared to much of what Motown was producing early in their history. It also marked the beginning of the label’s appeal to a white audience as it managed to bridge the gap between pop and rhythm & blues. While the song is still recognizable today, many times its historic nature is forgotten.
The Marvelettes would place 23 singles on the pop charts during the 1960s, but would quickly be superseded by such artists as The Supremes, Temptations, Four Tops, and their old drummer Marvin Gaye. They would record a number of memorable songs but none as successful as their one shining week fifty years ago.