Wednesday, June 19, 2024

RIP: Barrett Strong, Who Had the First Hit for Motown, with “Money (That’s What I Want),” Was 82


Reports are appearing on Facebook that Barrett Strong has died at age 82. Strong sang the first hit for Motown called “Money (That’s What I Want).” The song went on to become covered by dozens of other artists, most notably the Beatles in the early 60s, and the Flying Lizards in 1979.

Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement:

“I am saddened to hear of the passing of Barrett Strong, one of my earliest artists, and the man who sang my first big hit “Money (That’s What I Want)” in 1959.   Barrett was not only a great singer and piano player, but he, along with his writing partner Norman Whitfield, created an incredible body of work, primarily with the Temptations. Their hit songs were revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times like “Cloud Nine” and the still relevant, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).”   My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends. Barrett is an original member of the Motown Family and will be missed by all of us.  

Strong went on to co-write a bunch of Motown hits with Norman Whitfield, including “”I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by both Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips; Edwin Starr’s “War,” “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth; the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball of Confusion,” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, among others. Strong received a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1973 for “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”. Strong and Whitfield also co-wrote the ballad “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).”

Strong didn’t write “Money.” The song is credited to Motown founder Berry Gordy and his then secretary, Janie Bradford. (It’s their only collaboration of note.) So he didn’t reap much financial reward from the track. But presumably he made money with the Whitfield songs. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.

When Motown left Detroit for Los Angeles in 1971, Barrett Strong left the label and recorded for Epic, and Capitol. Here’s one of his later singles:

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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