Songs, signatures and 'Money'
Janie Bradford puts her imagination to work
“I’m no carbon copy of no one else,” sings Diana Ross on “I Am Me,” a track from her 1982 album, Silk Electric.
Not another blog about Diana!
Rest easy. She is present, but this time, only in passing. Diana is one of three writers identified in the small print beneath “I Am Me.” The others: Janie Bradford and Freddie Gorman. (Wait, three people penned a song with that title? OK, I know: stick to the point.)
And the point here is Janie, better known as co-writer with Berry Gordy of Motown’s first signature hit, “Money (That’s What I Want),” and also as the young company’s first receptionist. Oh, and she celebrates a birthday on the date of this blog’s posting. Many happy returns, Janie Bradford.
Or as she was once known, Janie Finney. In 1964, that was her married name, and also the signature on the contract between Jobete Music and Capitol Records, by which the Motown publishing unit agreed to discount its two-cent mechanical royalty as Capitol released the Beatles’ version of “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” (West Grand Blog, May 9).
Motown/Beatles fan/collector David Yellen sent over this piece of history from his memorabilia stash (thanks, David). One assumes that Janie’s mark also appeared on the Jobete paperwork which discounted the rate for the Beatles’ “Money (That’s What I Want)” to Capitol’s benefit – a splendid irony, given that the deal would have also discounted her earnings as co-writer of the song. Then again, given the U.S. sales of the relevant Beatles album, those earnings should have been rather fine, regardless.
Bradford’s role in the making of “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong is Motown folklore; so is her facilitating moment in the Supremes’ career. That, you’ll recall, was when she handed the group (or just Florence Ballard, by some accounts) options for a new identity. At the time, they were the Primettes, but Berry Gordy wanted something different. In The Lost Supreme, author Peter Benjaminson reports that the alternatives included the Darleens, the Royaltones and the Jewelettes. Ballard picked “the Supremes” from Bradford’s list.
Yet Janie Bradford has plenty of other credits at Motown, primarily as a lyricist – which harks back to her love of writing poetry as a youngster, when schoolteachers would hang her work on the bulletin boards at Detroit’s Cass Tech. As an adult, she went on to write songs with Strong, Smokey Robinson, Marv Johnson, Mickey Stevenson, Raynoma Gordy, Brian and Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, Deke Richards, Gloria Jones and, of course, Berry Gordy. Many of her Jobete copyrights were collaborations with Richard “Popcorn” Wylie, with whom she also penned material used elsewhere.
“Sometimes I would write at home and take a lyric to Smokey or Holland/Dozier/Holland or whoever,” Bradford once explained to me, “or if they were working on something there at the office, we hammered it out there.”
If “Money (That’s What I Want)” is the gift which keeps on giving – there have been more than 100 recordings of the song – then Janie’s next most lucrative copyright is “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby,” authored with Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield. “It started out as a lyric and I took it to Norman,” Bradford said, “and he and Barrett came up with the melody, the music.” In 1965, the Temptations were the first to commit it to tape, and it was included on their Gettin’ Ready album the following year.
In 1968, Whitfield returned to “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby,” shaping it with Marvin Gaye as the engaging – and shrewd – follow-up to “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” Janie recalled, “[Norman] cut it and said, ‘I’ve got a surprise for you.’ I didn’t even know they were about to release it, he kept it quiet.”
Another of her collaborators was Raynard Miner. The blind songwriter had joined Jobete Music in ’68 after a long spell at Chess Records, where his most notable co-writes included “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher” (West Grand Blog, May 26) and “Rescue Me.” Janie and Raynard’s partnership yielded no major hits, but the Four Tops’ “My Past Just Crossed My Future” was one gem.
Bradford could be versatile, too: she submitted a piece of work called “Plant A Seed” for the first American Song Festival, held in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1974. It triumphed – in the contest’s gospel/religious category. The song “showed sensitivity both in lyric and melodic concept,” declared renowned music critic Leonard Feather. The Oak Ridge Boys recorded “Plant A Seed” on their album, Smokey Mountain Gospel, but perhaps even better was the $5,000 prize Janie received in Saratoga Springs.
Music ran in the family, of course: Janie’s sister was the late Clea Bradford, a well-regarded jazz singer. The two were raised in Charleston, Missouri, but later moved North. In the 1950s, Janie lived for a while with her sister in Detroit, where Clea sang at the city’s Club 509 nightspot.
In liner notes for an edition of The Complete Motown Singles series, Bradford wrote of the company which gave her opportunity, “We were free to be creative, to have ideas, to let our imaginations take flight.” She certainly tried various ideas in the post-Motown years, at one point handling A&R administration for Los Angeles-based Source Records, then setting up her own Mirror Public Relations firm. Its clients included the Holland Group, thus continuing Janie’s long association with Brian and Eddie. In the 1990s, she even published a book of her non-musical poetry, entitled Rolling! Take One! Naturally, she did a book signing at the Motown Museum.
“We learned everything [at Motown] by trial and error,” Janie said when we last spoke. “You have to remember we were all in our mid-teens and whatever. Barrett was only 27 when it started, so we had to learn a lot.”
She put that education, and the accompanying relationships, to good use in founding the annual Heroes And Legends awards in Los Angeles more than a quarter-century ago. The ongoing HAL event celebrates the many stars of Motown – backstage as well as front-of-house – while fundraising for scholarships to support young people striving to succeed in the performing arts.
Janie Bradford’s songs may include “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “I Am Me,” but putting the first person aside, she’s evidently still working to help others.