Day 170: “Money (That’s What I Want)”

When was it recorded?   Jul. 18 & 30 and Sept. 30, 1963

When was it first released, and on which album?   Nov. 22, 1963 on “With the Beatles”

Who wrote it?   Janie Bradford & Berry Gordy

Have I heard this song before?   Yes

What my research dug up:

To talk about “Money (That’s What I Want)” we have to go back to about 1957. Up until then, young American Berry Gordy Jr. (born 1929) was working as a songwriter with his sister, Gwen, for artists like Jackie Wilson and Etta James. In 1957, however, he used his royalties to start producing music. Quoth Wikipedia, Gordy “began building a portfolio of successful artists,” and in 1959 Smokey Robinson encouraged Berry to create a new record label – Tamla Records. That name probably doesn’t ring a bell, but after a few rapid merges and evolutions, that label became Motown.

Gordy partnered with another Motown songwriter, Janie Bradford, to write “Money.”   The duo gave the song to American singer/songwriter Barrett Strong, one of the first artists signed to the Motown label, to record. Strong released “Money” as a single in Jan. 1960.

“Money” was the first hit single for the Motown label, peaking at #2 on the Hot R&B Sides and #23 on the Billboard Hot 100 (Wikipedia). Rolling Stone later ranked the tune #288 on their list, “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” More importantly though, it helped “establish Motown as an independent company worthy of notice” (Wikipedia).

“Money” became popular with a number of British Invasion bands, but according to George, the Beatles knew the song before it was that well known.

“Brian [Epstein] had had a policy at NEMS of buying at least one copy of every record that was released. If it sold, he’d order another one, or five or whatever. Consequently he had records that weren’t hits in Britain, weren’t even hits in America. Before going to a gig we’d meet in the record store, after it had shut, and we’d search the racks like ferrets to see what new ones were there… ‘Devil In Her Heart’ and Barrett Strong’s ‘Money’ were records that we’d picked up and played in the shop and thought were interesting.” — George Harrison (Anthology)

The Beatles performed “Money” during their ill-fated Jan. 1, 1962 Decca Records audition. (As always on these, Pete Best is on the drums.)

The Fab Four revisited the song a whopping six times for BBC Radio shows between May and Dec. 1963. A version from Dec. 26’s “From Us to You” appeared on last year’s compilation, “On Air – Live at the BBC.”

(Damn, I got this song right on time considering that video was published one month ago.)

In the midst of all these live performances, the Beatles found time to record a cover of “Money” on Jul. 18 for their album, “With the Beatles.” They took seven takes that day; George Martin added the piano part on Jul. 30, then added more piano part two months later before mixing the final track.  (Also notice how the song key went from F down to E.)

Quoth the Beatles Bible, “The Beatles’ version of ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ was a clear attempt to emulate the success of ‘Twist And Shout,’ the show-stopping finale of ‘Please Please Me.’” Indeed, “Money” is the final track on this follow-up album.

Another live version, recorded Oct. 24 in Stockholm, Sweden, appeared on “Anthology 1.”

The Beatles versions are excellent, naturally, but as per usual I prefer the original.  Sorry, lads.




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