THE CONTOURS

Do You Love Me

Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. has composed many hit songs, usually in collaboration with other writers. "Do You Love Me," a million seller for The Contours when first released in 1962 and a hit again 26 years later as a result of a fortunate turn of events, is the most popular of all the material Gordy has written solo, contradicting the notion that poignant or relevant lyrics are required for a piece of music to become a well-loved classic: 'I can really move...I'm in the groove...do you love me?...now that I can dance,' these self-congratulatory claims interspersed with compliments: 'Work it out, baby...well you drivin' me crazy...' and references to the hottest dances: 'I can mash potato...I can do the twist...now tell me, baby...do you like it like this?' (to which Chris Kenner might have replied, "Not necessarily!"). Actually, the secret was in the sauce! Contours singer Billy Gordon's clamorous lead vocal set against a driving arrangement anticipates the pause that is perhaps the song's most effective hook: of pop music's many false-alarm fade-outs ('Watch me now!'), are there any more famous than the one a half-minute from the end of "Do You Love Me"?

The Blenders (one of many groups in different regions with that name) formed in Detroit around 1959 with Gordon, Joe Billingslea (both previous members of The Majestics, using another commonly-used name), Billy Hoggs and Billy Rollins. Resisting the temptation to call themselves "Billings and Three Billys," or something equally as preposterous, Rollins quit and was replaced by Leroy Fair, then Hubert Johnson was added, making the act a quintet. An audition for Gordy didn't go well, but Hubert called in a favor to his cousin Jackie Wilson, who convinced longtime associate Berry to give tham a shot. They became the Contours (after the label that had issued the Majestics' one single, "Hard Times") and in a pattern familiar to the male vocal groups of Gordy's empire, guitarist Huey Davis was added as a sixth, non-singing member.

The first single appeared on Motown in early '61. Two takes of "Whole Lotta Woman" were released (one wild and primitive, the other just plain wild) with a rough, unbridled lead vocal by Billy Hoggs, who wrote the song with Gordy. A far cry from what would soon be established as "The Motown Sound," it made no impact at the time...except, of course, on people who actually heard it. Bennie Reeves (Vandella Martha's brother) replaced Leroy Fair, then Reeves entered the Navy and Sylvester Potts took his place. "The Stretch," a Mickey Stevenson-Loucye Wakefield dance tune, was a letdown, and Gordy shelved the group for almost a year. The following summer, he moved them to his newly-established Gordy Records imprint and the Contours hit the big time.

The Contours

Recorded in the summer of '62, "Do You Love Me" dominated the airwaves that fall (no mean feat with The 4 Seasons' sudden explosion), hitting number one on the rhythm and blues charts (sandwiched between the Seasons' "Sherry" and "Big Girls Don't Cry") while peaking nearly as high on the pop charts. They followed with a "Sherry" disc of their own, "Shake Sherry," featuring another strong vocal by Gordon. "Don't Let Her Be Your Baby" was mildly humorous, standard procedure for competing R&B acts The Olympics and The Rivingtons. Nothing the Contours released came anywhere near the popularity of their major hit, yet most sold respectably and enjoyed scattered, if somewhat consistent, radio airplay. Berry Gordy began letting others take a stab at writing for the group; "Can You Do It," penned by his wife, Thelma Gordy, and Richard Street, milked the "Do You Love Me" idea at about the time Brit band The Dave Clark Five scored a hit with a remake of that earlier smash, an unusual choice considering Brian Poole and the Tremeloes had taken their version to the top of the U.K. charts in October '63.

The group had a falling out in mid-1964; once the dust settled, Billy Gordon and Huey Davis were joined by three new singers, Council Gay, Jerry Green and Alvin English, though the latter left shortly afterwards and Sylvester Potts returned. "Can You Jerk Like Me" (Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter's answer to The Larks' big dance hit "The Jerk") and a more conventionally romantic Smokey Robinson ballad, "That Day When She Needed Me," was the group's only two-sided hit. Summer '65 brought one of the more notorious cult Motown recordings with Smokey and Miracle Bobby Rogers' "First I Look at the Purse" (a stepchild of sorts to Jimmy Soul's chart-topping "If You Wanna Be Happy"), suggesting a woman's looks don't matter if there are material benefits to be had ('...she can be covered with a rash, long as she got some cash'). It was their biggest R&B hit since "Do You Love Me."

Billy Gordon, the last of the original members, finally decided to quit the group. He was replaced by Joe Stubbs (Four Top Levi's brother), former lead singer of The Falcons; Joe's unique vocal style, so obvious on the Falcons' "You're So Fine," is also evident on the Contours' spring '66 single "Just a Little Misunderstanding" (a Morris Broadnax-Stevie Wonder-Clarence Paul composition). In standard Contour fashion, Stubbs moved on and Dennis Edwards was tapped as a replacement; his is the lead voice on "It's So Hard Being a Loser." He didn't stick around long either, but for a different reason: the entire group called it quits. The elaborate game of Motown Musical Chairs had temporarily reached its end. Edwards landed an extraordinary gig with The Temptations in '68, just in time to help the quintet establish a new direction with "Cloud Nine." Billingslea, Gay and Potts have been involved with various Contours revivals over the years; outside forces came into play when "Do You Love Me" was featured on the soundtrack of the film Dirty Dancing starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. The song lit up the summer of 1988 much the way it had back it '62, providing an unexpected windfall and guaranteeing higher-profile concert tours for future Contours configurations, with no expiration date, as long as the fans '...can really shake 'em down!'

- Michael Jack Kirby





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Do You Love Me