The Heart of Rock and Soul
Dave Marsh, 1989
A parable of show business: About 1955, Berry Gordy Jr. went bankrupt running a Detroit record store that reflected his taste (jazz) at the expense of the popular lust (rhythm and blues). As a result. he had to go to work in an auto factory. As a way out, Gordy got together after work with Billy Davis and abandoned art for mammon by writing pop songs. Davis adopted the pseudonym Tyrone Carlo, but was upfront enough about what he was doing to contact his cousin, Jackie Wilson,.who'd recently left Billy Ward and the Dominoes. They immediately came up with "Reet Petite." a song only Wilson. as agile vocally as he was physically, could have sung properly.
The team stayed together for a series of hits, of which "Lonelv Teardrops" is the most splendid. It is the one Wilson arrangement of the fifties sufficiently spare to get every detail right: the Latin rhythm buoyed by pizzicato strings, the female chorus chanting "Say you will," the tambourine backbeat, Wilson's own spectacular vocal flourishes (never knew "home" had four syllables, didja?).
As a result of "Lonely Teardrops," which he probably thought was hackwork, Berry Gordy became both an artist and the richest black man in American history. Twenty years later, Jackie Wilson, who made many hits, some art, but not much money, collapsed onstage while singing the line "My heart is crying . . ." from "Lonely Teardrops."
He never recovered.