Brenda Holloway hit the Top 40 three times for Motown, and each time there’s a story to tell.
California composer Ed Cobb, once one of the Four Preps, wrote “Every Little Bit Hurts”; Brenda had cut it for the Del-Fi label in Los Angeles, circa 1962, and she’d record it once more for the new Motown West Coast office, manned by producers Hal Davis and Marc Gordon. It was a song she did not want to do: been there, done that. In April 1964, the new version of “Every Little Bit Hurts” was turned loose; it hit #13 in Billboard, getting her a slot on the next Motortown Revue.
After “I’ll Always Love You,” another Cobb tune (not the same “I’ll Always Love You” cut by the Spinners during their Motown years) failed to hit big, Mary Wells was packing up for 20th Century-Fox, and seeing Brenda as the Next Mary Wells, the company brought her to Detroit to replace Mary on a Smokey Robinson number. It’s the same backing track over which Mary sang; some orchestral sweetening was added for Brenda. “When I’m Gone” reached #25.
Brenda’s last Top 40 entry was a song she wrote with her sister Patrice; Berry Gordy and producer Frank Wilson added a few bits and slapped their names on as co-writers. (Wilson, says Brenda, came up with the bridge.) “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” stalled at #39; a subsequent cover by Blood, Sweat & Tears reached #2, by which time Brenda had left Motown and sued Gordy over his alleged contribution to the song.
After a long time away from the microphone, she began to record again, and to make personal appearances. (One such appearance, I am told, was with BS&T.)
She turned 70 this past week, and she’s still singing.