‘Money’ Singer and Temptations  Songwriter Barrett Strong, Motown’s First Star, Dies at 81

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Barrett Strong, whose recording of “Money (That’s What I Want)” became the first hit single for the new Motown Records complex in 1960, died on Jan. 29, 2023, according to the Motown Museum. The song was at first credited to Strong, then, three years later, authorship was changed to that of label founder Berry Gordy Jr. and Janie Bradford (Berry’s secretary at the time).

“Money” was later covered by the Beatles in 1963, and many other artists in subsequent years. Recorded in late 1959, it actually appeared first on Gordy’s Tamla label and was re-released on his Anna label, named after Anna Gordy (Berry’s sister). The single’s brisk sales gave the businessman the impetus (and capital) he needed to continue releasing recordings from the company’s headquarters in Detroit.

Strong was 81. Details on cause and place of death have not been announced.

“Money” reached #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 but jumped to #2 on the trade magazine’s R&B chart. Strong never placed another single on the pop chart but he did place two further singles on the R&B chart in his post-Motown career, 1973’s “Stand Up and Cheer for the Preacher,” on Epic Records (#78) and ’75’s “Is It True,” on Capitol (#41).

Although Strong was a one-hit wonder under his own name, he subsequently maintained a substantial career as a lyricist for the Motown empire. Teamed with Norman Whitfield, Strong co-wrote such enduring classics as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a massive hit for both Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips; Edwin Starr’s “War”; the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes”; and a string of classic soul hits cut by the Temptations, including “Papa Was a Rollin’ Sone” (which won the Grammy for Best R&B Song in 1973), “Cloud Nine,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion,” “Psychedelic Shack” and “Just My Imagination.” The latter became a #1 hit for the Temptations and was later covered by the Rolling Stones.

Related: The story behind Edwin Starr’s hit “War”

Barrett Strong was born Feb. 5, 1941, in West Point, Miss. He left the Motown operation in 1971 when the company shifted its base of operations to Los Angeles. He continued writing and recording into the 1980s, but met with little success. Strong was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.

Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a Sunday statement, “Barrett was not only a great singer and piano player, but he, along with his writing partner Norman Whitfield, created an incredible body of work, primarily with the Temptations. Their hit songs were revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times like ‘Cloud Nine’ and the still relevant ‘Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).'”

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