Mary Wells was one of the first of the 60's soul singers, an early star at Motown, and she contributed her fair share of top ten songs to rock and roll.
Born in Detroit in 1943, Mary Wells began singing in local clubs and talent contests at age ten. As a teenager she wrote a song called Bye Bye Baby for Jackie Wilson. At age 17 she went to the fledgling Motown Records and producer Berry Gordy, Jr. with the song. Motown was holding open auditions, and Gordy not only bought the song, he also signed Mary to a recording contract. Bye Bye Baby was her first song to reach the top fifty.
Smokey Robinson was also there in the early days of Motown and he began to write songs for her. She was the first artist to have a top ten song on the Motown label, and also the first to have a #1 song for Motown. Her career peaked with the release of her only #1 tune, My Guy, in 1964. [A year later, the Temptations reached #1 with Smokey's answer record, My Girl.] She also had success with some duets she did with Marvin Gaye.
The Beatles had a great deal of admiration for Mary Wells and she toured with them in the 60's. She was friends with John Lennon in particular, and very upset when he was murdered some years later.
20th Century Fox lured Mary Wells away from Motown with false promises of a movie career. She was able to escape her contract with Motown because she had been underage when she originally signed it. Mary released five songs on the 20th Century label in 1965 and 1966 but only one, Use Your Head, made the top forty. She drifted to other labels later in the 60's, recording for Atlantic/Atco and Jubilee, and later Reprise and Epic.
Mary Wells married Cecil Womack, brother of 70's recording star Bobby Womack. They had three children but the marriage ended in divorce. Next up for Mary was a successful run playing with touring oldies shows. She had a fanatical following and was very well liked by people in the music business.
Mary Wells was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1990 and died not long after that.
Following is a list of top ten songs released by Mary Wells, all of which were written and produced by Smokey Robinson: