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Radio Feedback: Berry Gordy’s Surprising First Hit

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Motown founder Berry Gordy (Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

Motown founder Berry Gordy (Larry Busacca/Getty Images)

By Brian Ives 

Welcome to Radio Feedback, Radio.com’s weekly feature where we ask artists to wax nostalgic on the first time they heard themselves on the radio.

When you think of Motown, you think Berry Gordy. The music industry icon founded the legendary independent label that changed pop culture, and, arguably, America. The label’s roster is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) in pop music history: Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Jackson 5, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and the Temptations were all cranking out hits at a furious pace in the ’60s and ’70s.

So, when Radio.com asked Berry Gordy our usual “Radio Feedback” question – “Do you remember the first time you heard yourself on the radio?” – his answering was a bit of a surprise, in that it was not a song by a Motown artist at all… although it was a classic by a legendary artist

“It was ‘Reet Petite’ by Jackie Wilson,” Gordy told Radio.com. “It wasn’t a Motown song, but it was the first song that I wrote. I was a songwriter back then,” by which he means, he a songwriter for hire, as opposed to being a singer/songwriter recording his own compositions.

He remembers the moment he first heard it: “I was feeling sad, sitting in a room, waiting for somebody to that record, when I heard it, I just went crazy: I got a headache, I thought I was gonna fall out, I was jumping up and down. [I heard it on] on WCHB Radio in Detroit,  I was dancing around and I turned on the TV, and then Dick Clark was playing it on American Bandstand!”

“I felt like I was on top of the world,” he continues, “And everything else paled [in comparison] to that kind of excitement.” Gordy would go on to write a few other songs for Jackie Wilson, including the classic “Lonely Teardrops,” before founding Motown Records, whose first hit was also penned by Gordy, “Money (That’s What I Want).”

Soon afterwards, he stopped writing songs, instead focusing on running the empire that Motown would become. And while he was certainly a formidable songwriter in his own right, he didn’t need to spend too much time composing, not when he had a writing stable that included  the Holland/Dozier/Holland team (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian Holland and Eddie Holland), not to mention Smokey Robinson.

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