The Contours are widely remembered for their 1962 smash "Do You Love Me", one of the early hits that helped put Motown on the map. Yet they were not a typical Motown group ; in fact they were one of the roughest, hardest R&B groups that Berry Gordy ever signed and their sound did not resemble the smooth, sophisticated blueprint that later became the Motown trademark. Nor did their stage presence. In contrast to the slick choreography of Motown's signature artists, the Contours were all wild, irrepressible energy, leaping and sliding all over the stage.
Two future Contours, Billy Gordon and Joe Billingslea, sang with the Majestics and can be heard on "Hard Times"/"Teenage Gossip" (1959), which came out on the Contour label, part of Bob West's LuPine group of labels. Hubert Johnson (a cousin of Jackie Wilson) joined Gordon and Billingslea in a new group called the Blenders, which became a quintet after the addition of Billy Hogg and Sylvester Potts. In 1961 they changed their name to the Contours and auditioned for Berry Gordy, who initially turned them down, but Hubert Johnson's Jackie Wilson connection came in handy. Their first Motown single (1008) was "Whole Lotta Woman"/"Come On And Be Mine" and sold well locally. Then came "The Stretch", which did nothing, and Gordy was ready to drop the Contours, but again Jackie Wilson interceded on their behalf. The group was moved to the newly formed Gordy label, where their first release was "Do You Love Me", a song Gordy had written with the Temptations in mind, but it proved too wild for their style. "Do You Love Me" zoomed to the top of the R&B charts in October 1962 and was also a # 3 pop hit. The disc did not chart in the UK, but a 1963 cover by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes hit the top spot there. On the tidal wave of the British Invasion, the Dave Clark Five also did well with their 1964 version (# 11 in the US). Up to 1967, almost all Contours singles made either Billboard's pop or R&B charts (and usually both), but nothing hit the pop Top 40. Until 1988 that is, when "Do You Love Me" was rereleased due to its inclusion in the hit movie "Dirty Dancing". This time the record peaked at # 11 in Billboard, on the Motown Yesteryear label. The film was so popular that it gave birth to an international tour entitled "The Dirty Dancing Tour", starring the Contours, Bill Medley, Merry Clayton and Eric Carmen. That tour lasted 10 months and played to over 2 million fans in 8 countries before it ceased production.
Long before that, the Contours had broken up in 1967, but in 1970 Billingslea and Potts revived the group name. Both have been a constant in the act since. Although no further recordings were issued (at least not in the US, there was one LP for UK-release only, "Running In Circles" in 1990), the Contours have continued to tour on the oldies circuit.
Acknowledgements : Steve Huey (All Music Guide), Wayne Jancik.
CD : The Very Best of the Contours (Motown, 1999). 15 tracks.
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