Our Top 10 Mary Wells songs list looks back at the songs and career of one of the legendary r&b singers of the Motown era. Singer Mary Wells helped change the music business. She was one of the pioneers of Motown Records. Wells became one of the artists who was able to bridge the color lines in music. Mary Wells, whose real name was Mary Esther Wells, was born on May 13, 1943 and died on July 26, 1992. She suffered from a lot of health problems growing up. When she was two, she got spinal meningitis. She was partially blind, deaf in one ear and suffered from temporary paralysis. If that wasn’t enough, she contracted tuberculosis at 10. Her family suffered from poverty. She had to help her family earn money. She started singing to take her mind off of the pain. She sang in church choirs and then performed in nightclubs in the Detroit area. She met Berry Gordy when she was 17. She wrote a song that she wanted Jackie Wilson to sing. Gordy wanted her to sing the song instead. The song was “Bye Bye Baby.” After she recorded the single, she was signed to Motown Records. Wells was the first female artist at Motown to have a Top 40 Pop single with “I Don’t Want to Take a Chance.”
In 1961, Wells released her debut album Bye Bye Baby I Don’t Want to Take a Chance. The album didn’t chart, but it did produce two hit singles. The singles are “Bye Bye Baby” and “I Don’t Want to Take a Chance.” In 1962, she released her second album The One Who Really Loves You. This album also didn’t chart. The single with the same name peaked at number eight on the charts. It was one of the first singles on Motown to be in the Top 10. It features the hit singles “The One Who Really Loves You” and “You Beat Me to the Punch.” It also features the singles “Strange Love” and “Two Wrongs Make a Right.”
Wells released her third album Two Lovers and Other Great Hits in 1963. It reached number 49 on the charts and stayed there for eight weeks. It features the hit singles “Two Lovers” and “Laughing Boy.” She recorded a live album called Recorded Live On Stage in 1963. This is a live version of her songs. This is the only live album she did for Motown Records. Wells recorded a duet album with Marvin Gaye called Together. This album peaked at number 42 on the Pop charts. It produced two hit singles. The singles are “Once Upon a Time” and “What’s the Matter With You Baby.”
Wells released another greatest hits album in 1964. It features her hit singles. This is her highest charting album. She released her fourth album Mary Wells Sings My Guy in 1964. The album charted at 111. This album features the hit song “My Guy.” It also features the singles “Whisper You Love Me Boy” and “He’s the One I Love.” This was her last album with Motown Records. Her husband advised her to leave Motown at the height of her fame.
She recorded her first album with 20th Century Fox in 1965. It was an eponymous album. The album didn’t chart that well. It features the hit single “Use Your Head.” It also features the singles “Ain’t It the Truth” and “Stop Taking Me for Granted.” She released her next album Love Songs to the Beatles in 1965. This was a tribute album to The Beatles. This is the last album she did for the label.
Wells signed with Atco Records and released her seventh studio album The Two Sides of Mary Wells. Her career wasn’t the same as it was years ago. There were rumors that Berry Gordy had her blacklisted making it hard for her to get airplay. She did manage to get a modest hit with the single “Dear Lover.” It charted on the R&B charts. Motown released B-sides of her singles as well as unreleased material on Vintage Stock in 1966.
She signed with Jubilee Records in 1968. She released her eighth studio album Servin’ Up Some Soul in 1968. It features the modest hit single “The Doctor.” This is her final song on the Pop charts. She continued to have R&B hits, but this was her last Pop hit. She took a long break from music and signed with Epic Records in 1981. She released her ninth album In and Out of Love in 1981. She changed up her music style for this album. She recorded more funk songs instead of her signature r&b sound. It features the hit single “Gigaloo.” Despite the failure of this album, Wells continued to record three more albums as well as several singles until she passed away.
Mary Wells was a groundbreaking artist in the 60’s. She managed to make her mark in history by being one of the first female Motown acts to be on the Pop charts. Unfortunately, she didn’t have a lot of hit albums, but she made up for it by having a lot of hit singles. She is largely known for her smash hit single “My Guy,” but she also has other hit singles that deserve a mention. This Top 10 Mary Wells Songs list will feature 10 of her hit singles.
# 10 – The One Who Really Loves You
The first song on our Top 10 Mary Wells Songs list is the anthemic “The One Who Really Loves You” from the album of the same name. This ballad has a soul sound. This in-your-face anthem is about telling her man not to love anyone else because they won’t love him the way she would. It has an amazing percussion beat early on in the track. It sounds similar to The Supremes “Come See About Me.” It has a calypso tempo that allows you to dance and gives the song some tempo. The music brought out the softness of her rich voice. The male background singers give the song a doo wop sound. They are a great addition to the song. Wells’ voice sounds soulful as she pleads for her man not to look at other women. She doesn’t hold many notes or do any runs, but she sounds really good in this song.
# 9 – What’s Easy for Two Is So Hard for One
The next song on our Top 10 Mary Wells Songs list is the enchanting “What’s Easy for Two is So Hard for One” from the hit Mary Wells Greatest Hits album. This song has a breezy and upbeat r&b and pop sound. This song is about her wanting her man to marry her. The rhythmic clapping beat happens throughout the song. It gives it an old school feel. The music was a change for her calypso style midtempo songs. This was more of an experiment for her. It was a great experiment because it worked. The verses of the song are energetic and will have you moving around. The chorus is slow and makes the song sound like a ballad. Her soulful and smooth as velvet vocals were a compliment to the music. Her background vocalists do a good job in the chorus. They are very harmonious while they are singing the hook.
# 8 – Bye Bye Baby
This heartbreaking song is from her debut album Bye Bye Baby I Don’t Want to Take a Chance. This soulful song has a soul sound. The song is about the man she loves breaking her heart. Here is some trivia about the song. Wells wrote this song for Jackie Wilson. Berry Gordy wanted her to sing the song instead. The music sounds like a slowed down version of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout.” Both songs have similar intros. The music is fun and easy to groove to. Wells’ vocals are full throated. She sings the song with impressive grit for a singer her age. She was only 17 when she recorded this song. She uses an exceptionally powerful voice. It’s hard to believe that she’s only a teenager. She sounds much older than her age. She has an alto voice, but she was able to go up an octave to hold a couple of notes. Her voice does tend to crack a little towards the end of the song, but she had to record the song a lot before she got it right.
# 7 – You Lost the Sweetest Boy
This vengeful song is from her successful Greatest Hits album. This up-tempo song has a soul and r&b sound. This fierce song is about a woman who had a sweet boy and threw him away. The woman’s loss was Wells’ gain because she got the boy. The music sounds similar to Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heatwave.” The music has attention-grabbing horns that sound fantastic. It also has amazing piano chords. The Supremes and The Temptations sing in the background. They do a great job supporting Wells. It gives the background a gospel sound that brings her back to her gospel roots. Wells sings in a higher key than her signature alto tone. She gives the background singers a chance to shine. She fades into the background a little, which gives them a chance to put their best feet forward.
# 6 – You Beat Me to the Punch
This retaliatory song is from the album The One Who Really Loves You. This ballad has a soul sound. This vindictive song is about a shy girl who likes a guy, but is too afraid to tell him. He ends up approaching her and they start dating. He turns out to be a player so she decides to pay him back. This was a unique subject for the song. There aren’t too many singers who sing songs about cheating on someone who has cheated on them. The music has smooth instrumentation. The guitarist is on point. The drumbeat screams perfection. Smokey Robinson makes great use of the break and stop in the hook. They made the choice to split the music into two parts so the drums and guitar riffs stop at the end of each verse. Wells’ vocals are enchanting and she hits all the right notes with the subject matter. She takes on two characters in the song. She shows a vulnerable side in the beginning of the song while showcasing her sassy side at the end of it. She manages to stay in character throughout the song.
# 5 – Two Lovers
The next song on our Top 10 Mary Wells Songs list is the mysterious “Two Lovers” from the album Two Lovers and Other Great Hits. This ballad has a soul and r&b sound. This misleading song is about her being in love with a person with two different personalities. Writer Smokey Robinson wrote this song for his wife at the time. The music sounds a little like The Miracles’ “More Love.” The brassy horn arrangement drives the music. The drums have a nice and rhythmic beat. Wells’ voice was smoky and smoldering. She sounds really confident in the song. Robinson purposely keeps the lyrics vague to keep you guessing on which man she will choose at the end. You have to pay attention to the song to get who she is talking about at the end.
# 4 – What’s the Matter With You Baby ft. Marvin Gaye
This apologetic Mary Wells song is from the impressive album Together. This ballad has an r&b sound. This regretful song is about him apologizing to her for hurting her and wanting her to take him back. The intro grabs your attention immediately. Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye are doing their vocals simultaneously in the beginning. The music sounds like a typical Motown sound. The piano chords and horn arrangements are riveting. The chorus is simple an easy to remember. Wells and Marvin Gaye sing well together. Marvin Gaye does win the vocal battle between the two even though they both do a good job with the material. The song is short, but pretty good. It could benefit from more lyrics and clarity as to the subject of the song, but it’s still enjoyable.
# 3 – Laughing Boy
This classic song is from the Two Lovers and Other Great Hits album. This ballad has a soul and pop sound. This comforting song is about her trying to convince the man she loves that she loves him. He doubts that her feelings for him are real so she has to convince him that they are. The music contains her signature calypso style theme. The drums are echoey and melodic. The guitar riffs are subtle and smooth. The horn arrangement dominates the music. The piano will grab your attention immediately. Wells uses a breathy and soulful tone throughout the song. It sounds captivating. She does hold back as far as belting and vocalizing, but it doesn’t hurt the song. Her voice sounds very mature for her age.
# 2 – I Don’t Want to Take a Chance
This cautious song is from the debut album Bye Bye Baby I Don’t Want to Take a Chance. This up-tempo song has a soulful beat. This song is about her being guarded about deciding whether or not she wants to take things to the next level with the man she is dating. The musicians took their time with the arrangements with the song and it paid off. The music is engaging and has the signature Motown sound. It is a danceable song that is refreshing. The lyrics are controversial because Wells was a young woman when she sang this song. She is 18 years old singing about whether or not she should make love to the man she is dating. It’s not risqué now, but it was during the time the song was released. It’s easy to forget that Wells was only 18 because she sounds much older than that. Wells’ vocals were electric and smoky. She uses a higher octave in this song. She sounds sassy and charismatic. Her voice is absolutely beautiful on this track. She even holds notes throughout the song.
# 1 – My Guy
The number one song on our Top 10 Mary Wells Songs list is the highly infectious “My Guy” from the album Mary Wells Sings My Guy. This ballad has a soul, pop and r&b sound. This loyal song is about her not wanting to cheat on her boyfriend. The music is smooth and melodic. The horn riffs are great and hypnotic. The music has piano riffs and handclaps that make it sound as if it’s a song by a group and not a solo artist. The trumpet keeps the music from being dull and predictable. Wells’ vocals are on fire in this track. She is using a higher octave instead of her signature alto tone. She combines sweetness with a hint of sexuality. Her smoldering vocals really sound magnificent. This song has been covered quite a few times over the years, but the covers don’t beat the original. It is easy to see why this is the biggest hit song of her career. It deserves its spot in the number one slot.
Top 10 Mary Wells Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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