Mary Wells was one of the first artists to sign onto the Motown label in 1960. Fresh out of high school, inspired by the success of other Detroit artists like Jackie Wilson and the Miracles, she began to pursue a career in the music industry. One of the first songs she wrote, “Bye Bye Baby” was with the singer Jackie Wilson in mind to perform. After spotting Berry Gordy at Detroit’s 20 Grand Club, she chased after him, saying she had written a great song. She sang the first verse on the spot and Gordy then invited her to Studio A.
She made her way to Hitsville and performed the song acapella. Gordy liked the song but liked her voice even more. He signed her as a solo artist to Motown in September 1960, releasing “Bye Bye Baby” as her first single. “Bye Bye Baby” became the title of her debut album, released in November of 1961. Later hits included “Two Lovers,” and “You Beat Me To The Punch,” released in 1962. This song would earn the first Grammy nomination not just for Mary Wells but for Motown. Two years later, Mary would release what would become her biggest hit, “My Guy.”
Released in March of 1964, “My Guy” earned her a gold record for selling over a million copies and broke the iron hold the Beatles had on the top ten of the Billboard charts. That same year, the song would peak in the US at #1 and in the United Kingdom at #5. To capitalize on her growing popularity, she was then paired with Marvin Gaye for an album of duets titled Together, that was released in April of 1964. Following this amazing success of a hit single and album, she headlined Motown’s Motortown Revue in the US a few months later and caught the attention of the Beatles. Calling her their favorite Motown artist they invited her to tour with them for the remainder of 1964.
Mary Wells was one of the first major stars of Motown and her career would inspire groups like the Supremes. In 1964, when she turned twenty-one and her contract expired, she left Motown to sign with another label, to pursue a career in acting, and to begin her family.
Mary Wells Live at the Apollo Theatre performing “Bye Bye Baby” 1962
Mary Wells performing “My Guy” on variety show Shindig!
Following the success of “My Guy,” Smokey Robinson would be inspired to write “My Girl” for The Temptations, initially as a joke. It would, of course, become a hit.