Category Archives: Jackie’s songwriters

“To Be Loved”

“To Be Loved” was Jackie Wilson’s first hit, and it was also the song Jackie performed more than any other in his career. Backed with “Come Back to Me,” was released in February 1957 and eventually reached #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on Billboard’s R&B chart. When Jackie introduced the song in one of his last performances in September 1975, he got the year wrong, saying “the year around nineteen hundred and fifty-eight—now don’t knock it, some of us know that was a pretty damned good year.”

Jackie then went on on to say that the song was written by “the great, incomparable Mr. Berry Gordy Jr, a young man who just so happens to own a small recording company . . . Motown.”

Berry Gordy the songwriter. When  Jackie Wilson left Billy Ward and His Dominoes to begin a solo career, he went back to Detroit to organize his next moves. At the time, Gordy was embarking on a career as a songwriter. In his autobiography, Gordy dubs 1957-1959 “The Songwriting Years” and begins the chapter with a section entitled “Jackie Wilson.” A hint at how much Gordy cared about this particular song lies in the title of the book, “To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown.” Of course, Motown was years away at the time “To Be Loved” was written.

Gordy TBL coverGordy made it part of Motown lore that he founded the company with an eight-hundred-dollar loan from his family. That was no doubt in part true. What is more accurate is that he started Motown with a loan and the royalties from writing five hit songs for Jackie Wilson, and those royalties were far more than eight hundred dollars. A lot of us would like to know what Gordy has made in royalties from Jackie’s recordings. He most likely made far more from them than Jackie Wilson ever did. Whatever that case may be, the section on Jackie Wilson in Gordy’s autobiography contains a detailed story (and “story” it may be) of the future head of Motown attempting to “sell” his song to Jackie.

Jackie was already a success, having been the lead tenor for Billy Ward and His Dominoes and also having charted a minor solo hit with “Reet Petite,” a song credited to Berry and his newly acquired songwriting partner, Billy Davis (see below), who was also at that time the lover of one of Berry’s sisters, Gwen. “Reet Petite” was most likely written by Davis, but Berry talks about “To Be Loved” as though no one else had any input in the song. This may be factual. On the other hand, the description that Gordy provides of introducing Jackie to the song sounds fictional, but who knows? Only Berry Gordy, and he has not talked about Jackie Wilson in many years.

Gordy says he had trouble getting in touch with Jackie (unlikely), but ultimately Jackie rang Berry’s doorbell, and Berry describes what followed that day :

I was still in the clouds about “Reet Petite” when I opened my front door a couple days later and there he was with his pretty-boy face and pretty-boy hair, a doo with an upswept pompadour in front, and a tight-fitting tailored suit. He walked in giving me a hug, but I could see he wanted to get right down to business.

“‘Reet Petite'” is a smash everywhere,” I shouted.

“I know, ” he said, “people love it. What cha got?”

Since he was already a star the song’s success wasn’t as big a deal to him as it was to me. Jackie really liked me but he just wanted to hear the new song and get out. He always made up his mind fast. Too fast for me. He had hastily rejected some of our other songs almost before we got started, so I had to nail him quickly.

I jumped into it, playing my usual simple chords on the piano, but singing with great soul and conviction. Even in my squeaky voice, it was easy to hear the deep passion I had for this song, singing for all I was worth, hoping he wouldn’t stop me before the first hook. He didn’t. I made it through the whole first verse. Great. But just as I was getting ready to start the second he said, “Okay. Okay, hold it! That’s enough.”

I hated it when he did that. One of my greatest performances—thwarted. Never opening my eyes, I stopped, frustrated.

“Gimme that paper,” he said, grabbing the lyric sheet off the piano. “I got it, I got it!” Circling his pointed finger at me, “Play, play” he said.

My emotions jumped from the square root of one to a hundred to the tenth power. Jackie had fallen in love with the song. And I fell in love with his dynamic golden voice all over again the minute he sang the first few words: “Someone to care, someone to share, lonely hours and moments of despair, to be loved, to be loved, oh what a feeling to be loved.”

I had never heard him do a ballad before. His voice was strong and deep and sincere. It was as if he had written it for himself. He brought up the entire range of emotions I had felt the night I wrote it. My tears came again and everything.

Jackie Wilson was the epitome of natural greatness. Unfortunately for some he set the standard I would be looking for in artists forever. I heard him sing many, many times and never a bad note. A bad song maybe, but never a bad note. Watching this man perform “To Be Loved” was always a thrill.

Never heard Jackie sing a ballad before? Ridiculous. “St. Therese of the Roses” had been a Top Twenty hit less than a year earlier. Well, it is a fun story, anyway.

Billy “Roquel” Davis (Tyran Carlo). Around 1956 or 1957, Berry Gordy formed a songwriting partnership with Billy Davis, who was sometimes called “Roquel” Davis, and who used the pen name “Tyran Carlo” for a number of compositions. Why all the names? “Billy Davis” was so common a name that there was even another Billy Davis among his set of companions in his hometown of Detroit.

The songwriting Billy Davis remained one of Jackie Wilson’s truest and most caring friends throughout the rest of Jackie’s life. As many readers know, there was a time when Jackie appeared to give up on life: he had experienced physical torture at the hands of Mob thugs, Harlean had betrayed him (with Nat Tarnopol, Jackie believed), and Jackie’s oldest son, Jack Jr (called “Sonny,” as Jackie himself had once been called) had been shot dead at age sixteen. Jackie believed this killing, attributed publicly to an accident occurring on a neighbor’s porch, was the work of Mafia hirelings.

These events occurred as federal agents were deep into their investigations of Mafia influence in the recording industry. Jackie was in the grasp of the Internal Revenue Service on one hand and the clutches of the Mob on the other. The IRS had the power to imprison Jackie for tax evasion. It could also overlook his tax problems if Jackie would testify against recording industry figures as they were brought to trial for various crimes. The recording industry figures under investigation were those with direct ties to the Mafia, which was the government’s real target.

Billy "Roquel" Davis (aka Tyran Carlo)

Billy “Roquel” Davis (aka Tyran Carlo)

According to what Davis told Jackie’s biographer, Tony Douglas, Davis helped Jackie move after Jackie had it out with Harlean and Nat. Billy says Jackie took only a few possessions when he left his swank apartment for the last time, abandoning everything else and settling into a room in a residential hotel to drink and drug himself to death. In time, Billy coaxed Jackie outside for walks and chats with fans. Eventually, Billy was able to convince Jackie to perform again, and even went out on the road as Jackie’s guitarist for a while. (After getting back to work again, Jackie would fall in love with Lynn Crochet and again know the joys of family life. With With Lynn’s help, he got off drugs and alcohol.)

Billy Davis is a true friend. Billy Davis did not go on the road with Jackie as someone who needed a job. He went as a friend who cared about Jackie and respected his talent. In the 1970s, Billy was writing and producing some of his most famous work as senior vice president and music director for a top New York advertising agency, McCann Erickson. If you are old enough, you will remember jingles Davis wrote and/or produced for his top clients, Miller Beer (“If you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer”) and Coca-Cola (“I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony” and others).

You can read an interesting compilation of information on Billy Davis and his many achievements here, but do not be fooled by the remark about “not knowing we [Berry and Billy] were supposed to be paid” for writing hits for Jackie Wilson. Davis was established as a songwriter even before Gordy got in the business, and both understood the business, and both received their royalties. Davis himself acknowledged this to Tony Douglas.

So who actually wrote “To Be Loved”? Well, one can read many claims and explanations. Michael Bublé has recorded a cover version of “To Be Loved” for his current album of the same title, and you can see the song listed as a Jackie Wilson composition on the track listings posted at Wikipedia, the international headquarters of conventional wisdom, shoddy amateur research, outright lies, and other popular forms of misinformation that the average college freshman (as in “C student”) thinks is a “solid source.”  Jackie did not write the song and never claimed he did. He credited Berry Gordy.

As a matter of fact, there is no evidence that Nat Tarnopol ever even tried to misrepresent the songwriting credits on “To Be Loved” or any Gordy/Davis compositions. Berry and Billy were young, but they were already experienced professionals at the time, and Nat either knew he could not scam them or was afraid to try. This is most likely why Nat was so eager to end the working relationship with them, which he did in an argument with Berry alone: neither Billy nor Jackie got a voice in the matter.

Altogether, the Gordy/Davis team supplied eleven songs Jackie Wilson recorded. Five of these were among Jackie’s first hits (“Reet Petite,” “To Be Loved,” “That’s Why,” “Lonely Teardrops,” and “I’ll Be Satisfied”), and the others appeared on early Jackie Wilson EPs and LPs. At various points in time, both Berry and Billy acknowledged that they had received the royalties due to them from these songs.

All the copies of the 45 of “To Be Loved” that I have seen list “Berry Gordy Jr – Tyran Carlo” as the songwriters. Because they had formed a partnership at the time, any song written by either one of them would have been credited to both. However, Billy Davis’s story on how “To Be Loved” was  written differed from Berry Gordy’s. Davis said that Berry had begun the song and brought it over to the apartment where Billy and Berry’s sister, Gwen, were living, so all three worked on it. And in his autobiography, Berry complained that the songwriting royalties from record sales were being split three ways for the songs they wrote for Jackie. And here’s a screen capture of a “performance rights” card for the song which lists all three as the songwriters:

TBL performance card

Yes, the date on this card is interesting, isn’t it? My understanding of this could be wrong, so I welcome correction or clarification on the following: performance rights for the song would be paid to Tarnopol’s company, Pearl Music, and to the songwriters in accordance with the terms of their contract with Tarnopol at Pearl Music. However, performance rights are not the same as royalty payments on records sold.

Performance rights covered a range of things for which the artist was not remunerated, such as sheet music sales (or Eddie Murphy singing the song in a film decades later). Here the “recorded by” line simply identifies Jackie’s recording in case the music publisher licensed that particular version for something like use in a jukebox or inclusion in some crummy “teen flick.” In this era at least, the artist received royalties on record sales (theoretically) but did not receive any of the money collected for performance rights.

I am guessing that Berry Gordy has made plenty of money from this song over the last half century or so, and I assume he will make more on the Michael Bublé recording. I wonder how much “To Be Loved” will finally net him . . . and whether, in the end, it will be his most lucrative songwriting endeavor of all time?

Performance rights and the Jackie Wilson story. It’s important to note that “performance rights” are what prevent anyone making a feature film or even a documentary about Jackie Wilson. No one would attempt to produce a film of any kind about a singer unless they were able to secure the rights to use that artist’s music. Obviously, such rights are generally easy to acquire because the owner of the rights increases his or her profits without having to make a new investment or take on any risk.

So why is it that no one can secure performance rights for a film on Jackie Wilson? There is only one possible explanation: those who hold the performance rights for Jackie Wilson’s recorded music have a serious reason to suppress the facts of Jackie Wilson’s life and career.

Many people who knew Jackie Wilson assert that there was one project, a made-for-televison movie, that was granted rights to use Jackie’s music. This rumor, reported by Tony Douglas and spread among Jackie’s friends and fans, was that the highly fictional script Harlean Harris appear heroic and trashed not only Jackie Wilson but also Sam Cooke. Give that concept just a little thought, and it becomes obvious why certain power players would appreciate having both Wilson and Cooke discredited.

But what happened to that project? The project was scrapped, and the rumor has always been that the person who stopped it was Berry Gordy. Gordy has been repeatedly characterized as a man who loves money above all else, but few people really do love money ABOVE ALL ELSE, and if you take as a whole what Gordy says in his autobiography about Jackie Wilson, you have to conclude that Berry not only recognized the enormity of his friend’s talent, but also deeply empathized with Jackie, the man.

Jackie and Detroit crowd

(standing) Billy Johnson, Al Abrams, Johnny (“JJ”) Jones, Berry Gordy Jr, Jackie Wilson, Robert Bateman, (kneeling) Willie John

The early hits would be crucial to any film about Jackie, and it is easy enough to imagine that any irregularities in the business transactions regarding those early hits (and there could have been many) would give Gordy the leverage to stop the “Harlean project.” It would also make sense that if Gordy did this, he would do this quietly, given the parties involved.

Here are the simple and perfect lyrics to this stunning and timeless ballad. Click on the title to reach Jackie’s original recording.

To Be Loved
B. Gordy/T. Carlo/G. Gordy

Someone to care
Someone to share
Lonely days, hours of despair
To be loved, to be loved
Oh, what a feeling
To be loved

Someone to kiss
Someone to miss
When you’re away
To hear from each day
To be loved, to be loved
Oh, what a feeling
To be loved

Some wish to be a king or a queen
Some wish for fortune and fame
But to be truly, truly loved
Is more than all of these things

“Love Train” lyrics

“Love Train” is a killer recording featuring Jackie Wilson’s powerful voice turned playful and a churning Dick Jacobs arrangement. It’s all built on the foundation of a terrific Blackwell/Scott collaboration. Throughout the song, Jackie mimics Elvis Presley.

You can hear the song being played as some fabulous dancers named Mark and Genevieve put it to the ultimate rock’n’roll test. As they used to say on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand: “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”

Lyrics. The only problem is that Jackie is imitating Mr. Presley’s mushmouth diction, and consequently, the words are indistinct in two lines that are repeated throughout the recording. Even after enlisting the services of my buddy Dennis West, the best I can offer here is a “mostly accurate” stab at the words.

The line “My heart is like a deserted terminal” may well be “My heart is like a deserted tavern” or a “deserted tank” or a “deserted tomb” or just about any other one-syllable or two-syllable noun beginning with the most commonly used consonant in the English language. I’m going with the word terminal (pronounced “term’na”) because it makes sense that a train would not stop in an abandoned train station, but it may be an abandoned town, because a train wouldn’t stop at a ghost town either.

And I am not totally certain about the following line, which I believe is “No locks in the windows and none on the door,” although it sounds more like “No love’s in the windows and none on the door,” and it just may be “No lights in the windows and none on the door.” Ah, make that “the dough.” (Sorry. I’m getting silly).

Love Train
Otis Blackwell, Winfield Scott

Aaaaaaaah, baby!
I want you to listen to me
In fact, everybody out there
Pay attention now
I got a story I want to tell . . . uh-huh

You know, that Love Train don’t stop here no more, uh-huh
My heart is like a deserted term’nal
No locks in the windows and none on the door
When that Engineer Cupid drives on by
You know, I can see it in Cupid’s eye
That that Love Train won’t stop here no more, uh-huh

I thought it was fun to tell little girls lies, uh-huh
I didn’t care which ones I made cry
Hah! That Love Train won’t stop here no more
My heart is like a deserted term’nal
No locks in the windows and none on the door
When that engineer Cupid comes on by
I can see it in Cupid’s eye
That that Love Train won’t stop here no more

Well, I’m gonna check in ta Heartbreak Hotel, uh-huh
Somewhere on a lonely avenue, yeah, yeah
No sense in hopin’ ’cause I know too well
That’s all that’s left for me to do, I tell you . . .
That Love Train won’t stop here no more
My heart is like a deserted term’nal
No locks in the windows and none on the door
Well, that Engineer Cupid show us all
He ain’t gonna let no little fine girls off
That Love Train won’t stop here no more

(instrumental break)

Well, I’m gonna check in ta Heartbreak Hotel, uh-huh
Somewhere on a lonely avenue, uh-huh
No sense in hopin’ ’cause I know too well
Yeah, that’s all that’s left for me to do, I tell you . . .
That Love Train won’t stop here no more
My heart is like a deserted term’nal
No locks in the windows and none on the door
Oh, Engineer Cupid, show us all
You ain’t gonna let no little fine girls off
I told ‘em that Love Train won’t stop here no more

Why not? I don’t know!
Why not? I need my baby.
Let her off!
Oh, Mr. Conductor . . .
Stop the train right now!

Otis Blackwell

Otis Blackwell

The songwriters. Otis Blackwell was a major force in shaping rock ‘n’ roll. He wrote “Fever” for Little Willie John, and he wrote both “Breathless” and “Great Balls of Fire” for Jerry Lee Lewis. For Elvis Presley, he wrote “Paralyzed,” “All Shook Up,” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” and he collaborated with Winfield Scott to write “Return to Sender.” Another major Otis Blackwell hit, “Handy Man,” was first recorded by Jimmy Jones. Winfield Scott himself made additional significant contributions to the popular music canon, writing “Many Tears Ago” for Connie Francis and writing or co-writing two of LaVern Baker’s best known songs, “Tweedlee Dee” and “Bop Ting A Ling.”

“Bop Ting a Ling” is a personal favorite of this writer. I have always imagined the feisty Baker, a longtime friend of Jackie Wilson, was singing to Our Hero:

Bop Ting a Ling
Winfield Scott

Bop ting a ling, you handsome thing
I’d like to get next to you
Doo wah diddy, you walk so pretty
You thrill me through and through
Rang dang doozy, you got me woozy
You look so heavenly
Great day in the morning, I’m giving you warning
You better watch out for me

Great day in the morning
Great day in the morning, man
Great day in the morning
Oh baby, take me by the hand
Great day in the morning
Great day in the morning
Great day in the morning
Bop ting-a ling, I feel so grand

Ting a ling, you handsome thing
I’d like to get next to you
Doo wah diddy, you walk so pretty
You thrill me through and through
Rang dang dilly, you got me silly
My heart won’t let me be
Great day in the morning
I’m giving you warning
You better watch out for me

Well, I’m afraid I have digressed a bit here.

My unanswered questions. Blackwell and Scott wrote “Return to Sender” for Elvis to use in the movie Girls! Girls! Girls! (released in November 1962). Jackie’s “Love Train” appeared on the LP Baby Workout, which was released the following spring (April 1963). I am trying to ascertain whether or not “Love Train” was actually written for Elvis Presley. It may even have been one of the songs offered for the film. I think Jackie and Elvis visited while Elvis was making that particular movie, and I wonder if Jackie heard about the song from Elvis.

“I Hurt So Bad” is another recording on which Jackie Wilson sings in his “Elvis mode.” This song appears on Jackie’s “The Lost Tapes” CD, and I suspect it was also written by Blackwell.

If anyone reading this has further information or a photo of songwriter Winfield Scott, I would appreciate hearing from you.

The wild and the beautiful

Soul Time LPAs far as I know, Ronnie Self wrote only two songs that Jackie Wilson recorded. Both appear on Soul Time (1965), one of Jackie’s greatest LPs.

Let me say from the outset that I have always just assumed that the “Self” listed as songwriter is the Ronnie Self I describe in this post. Nothing I have read about Ronnie Self associates the songwriter with the Soul Time tunes, but he had a contract to write songs for Decca in the early 1960s, and Brunswick was a Decca subsidiary.

Both the hard-rocking “Mama of My Song” and the wistful “An Ocean I’ll Cry” are brilliant; theoretically, they are songs many artists would embrace. Yet I have never heard of anyone other than Jackie Wilson recording either of them, and most people have never heard of either or them. Sadly, that “most people” includes many Jackie Wilson fans.

Ronnie Self was a performer as well as a songwriter, and he is still revered among rockabilly aficionados, particularly in England. Dubbed “Mr. Frantic,” Self’s best known recording is probably “Bop-a-Lena.” I don’t think any performance video of him is available on the Web, but he was good enough to make at least one appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand.

While Self’s alcoholism led to erratic and sometimes dangerous behavior that scarred his life both professionally and personally, he wrote great songs, including two big hits for country/pop star Brenda Lee, “Sweet Nothins” and “I’m Sorry.”

Ronnie Self

I’m mystified by the way the two Self compositions on Soul Time have escaped attention from those scrutinizing the Jackie Wilson canon. If for nothing else, the manic “Mama of My Song” should be forever remembered for the marvelous line, “You walk around on me, oh yeah, like I was your everyday shoes.”

And if there is one Jackie Wilson recording that always makes my personal favorites list, it has to be “An Ocean I’ll Cry,” which Our Hero sings soulfully yet simply. Yes, there are a few spoken words and some phrases crooned here and there, and Jackie being Jackie, there are syllables that multiply as we listen, such as “If you were the sky-y-y, I’d want to be your moo-oo-oon.” But there is nothing melodramatic about the way Jackie delivers the vocal. It’s straightforward and simply beautiful, a great lyric interpreted by a master singer’s technique.

I’ve provided the lyrics and links for the songs below, and if you are interested, you can join my Freshman English students in reading a rhetorical analysis of “An Ocean I’ll Cry” in an upcoming post by that title. Self’s words provide an effective tool for understanding the power of figurative language as well as magnificent material for Jackie Wilson.

“The Mama of My Song”
(Words and music by Ronnie Self)
Ah, yeah, yeah, baby, yeah, yeah . . .
Now, you’re the mama of my misery
You’re the mama of all my blues
You know, you walk around on me, oh yeah
Like I was your everyday shoes
Let me tell you, you’re the reason that I cry all night
You’re the reason these blues was born
You’re the mama of my misery
The mama that made a fool of me
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re the mama of my song
Baby, I’m the daddy you used to love
I’m that daddy you said you don’t want no more
Looka here, girl, I’m that daddy that you hurt so
And you left me walking the floor
Aaah, you’re the reason that I cry all night
You’re the reason these blues were born
You’re the mama of my misery
The girl that left me in misery
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re the mama of my song

Ah, yeah . . .
You’re the mama of my misery
You’re the mama of my blues
Let me tell you, you walk around on me, oh yeah
Like I was your everyday shoes
But, woman, you’re the reason that I cry all night
You’re the reason these blues was born
You’re the mama of my misery
The girl that left me in misery
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you’re the mama of my song
Hey, baby, you’re the mama
Hey, baby, I’m the daddy . . .Ah, yeah . . .

“An Ocean I’ll Cry”
(Words and music by Ronnie Self)
If you were a poem, I’d want to be your rhyme
If you were a day, I’d want to be your sunshine
If you were a picture, I’d want to be your frame
If you were a rose, Honey, I’d want to be your rain

Tell me, tell me, what mountains to move
Do you want castles in the sky?
And if it’s hurting I must do
Then an ocean I’ll cry

If you were a queen, I’d want to be your throne
If you were a house, Honey, I’d want to make you my home
If you were the sky, I’d want to be your moon
If you were a song, Darling, I’d want to be your tune

Tell me, tell me, what mountains to move
Do you want castles in the sky?
And if it’s hurting I must do
Then an ocean I’ll cry