Barrett Strong: A Totally '80s Tribute to a Motown Legend

The California Raisins...on ice
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Today we celebrate the birthday of singer/songwriter Barrett Strong, who had a hand in penning some of the biggest hits and most iconic tracks of the ‘60s and ‘70s. To commemorate the occasion, we thought we’d kick it up a decade - more or less - and spotlight some of the more interesting covers of Strong’s compositions that were released in - or at least on the cusp of - the ‘80s.

The Flying Lizards, “Money (That’s What I Want)” (1979)

Strong’s own version of this song was his only Top 40 hit, hitting No. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 when it was originally released in 1960, and it earned a new round of fame a few years later when The Beatles recorded a version for their 1963 album, With The Beatles. This new wave version by The Flying Lizards, however, was such a big hit in the U.K. - it hit No. 5, later climbing to No. 50 in the U.S. - that it served as part of the impetus for the band to secure a deal with Virgin Records.

Paul Young, “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)” (1983)

Formerly of the new wave band The Q-Tips, Young burst on the scene as a solo artist in a big way with this Strong song (best-known as a favorite by Marvin Gaye), earning his first - and, as of this writing, only - No. 1 U.K. hit. The tune would only make it to No. 70 in the US, but Young ended up getting a No. 1 there a few years later with “Every Time You Go Away.”

Read More: February 1985: Paul Young Releases "Every Time You Go Away"

Frankie Goes to Hollywood, “War” (1984)

Famously recorded to tremendous success by Edwin Starr, most Americans in the ‘80s heard this song via Bruce Springsteen’s cover, but Frankie Goes to Hollywood made it more popular across the pond. (Ironically, they also delivered a more-than-serviceable cover of “Born to Run”!)

Read More: January 1984: Frankie Say "Relax," Get Banned by BBC

Love and Rockets, “Ball of Confusion” (1986)

The Temptations were the ones who earned the first and biggest hit with this track, but these former Bauhaus members did a stellar job of updating the tune for the goth crowd.

The California Raisins, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1988)

We were originally going to offer up The Slits’ version of this song made most famous by Marvin Gaye, but this was such a seminal version for so many kids in the ‘80s that we couldn’t resist throwing it into the mix.

Was (Not Was), “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (1990)

With vocals by Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens, plus a rap by G Love E, this is a solid cover by Don and David Was, even if it can’t touch the more famous version by The Temptations.

Read More: April 1989: Was (Not Was) Earn Unlikely Hit with "Walk the Dinosaur"

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The clip comes from a new concert film coming in April 2021.

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