Motown songwriter dies at 81

Barrett Strong was a singer and songwriter for Motown Records who had the label’s first hit with “Money (That’s What I Want).”

Motown hitmaker

Strong was one of the first artists who signed with Motown back when it was called Tamla Records. He quickly brought the label their first hit, 1960’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” which rose to No. 2 on the R&B chart and later became one of the Beatles’ best-loved hits. Strong claimed to have co-written the song, but the truth of that claim is unsure. However, Strong was the co-writer behind many of Motown’s other hits. With Norman Whitfield (1940–2008), he wrote songs for the Temptations including “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), and they on a Grammy Award for “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” For other artists, Strong and Whitfield wrote such songs as Edwin Starr’s (1942–2003) “War,” the Undisputed Truth’s “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” a hit for both Marvin Gaye (1939–1984) and Gladys Knight & the Pips. Strong later left Motown and had a solo career, releasing a handful of records in the 1970s, ‘80s, and 2000s.

Notable quote

“As far as ‘Cloud Nine,’ ‘Psychedelic Shack,’ ‘Ball of Confusion’ go, all that was just a sign of the times. Seems like those were the only things that were righteous enough to write about. Things like ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.’ These things happened in a lot of people’s lives. Living in the ghetto, they had a father that sort of just hung out — he’s home every now and then or whenever — and we could see these things happening, write about them, and people would say, ‘Wow, that happened in my life.’” —from a 2005 interview with Don Waller


Tributes to Barrett Strong