Richard 'Popcorn' Wylie: Tamla Motown pioneer who became a cult hero for Northern Soul fans

The pianist, songwriter, producer, bandleader and occasional singer Richard "Popcorn" Wylie was in at the birth of Tamla Motown. He played on "Shop Around", a 1961 hit for the Miracles, on "Please Mr Postman", a US chart-topper in the same year by the Marvelettes, and also cut a rollicking cover version of Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)", the label's début hit.

Wylie recorded three singles for the company, was Motown's first head of A&R, and the bandleader on the first Motortown Special tour in 1962. But he fell out with the Motown chief Berry Gordy, who does not even mention him in his autobiography, and he left the company in 1962. A versatile musician and prolific producer and writer, Wylie subsequently co-wrote many singles beloved of soul fans in the UK, most notably "With This Ring", and Jamo Thomas's infectious "I Spy (For The FBI)".

Born Richard Wayne Wylie in Detroit in 1939, he grew up in a musical family and acquired the nickname "Popcorn" because he made a habit of popping quickly out of the football team's huddle at Northwestern High School. While there, he formed Popcorn and the Mohawks, a group which featured the future Motown studio musicians James Jamerson on bass and Clifford Mack on drums.

In 1960, Wylie recorded his début single, "Pretty Girl", for the local Northern label. He was also a regular performer at the Twenty Grand, a Detroit club where he met a fellow musician and budding songwriter Robert Bateman, then doubling up as an engineer for Gordy's fledgling Motown label.

Wylie joined the embryonic incarnation of the Funk Brothers, the backing musicians whose crucial input into Motown was eventually recognised and highlighted in Paul Justman's award-winning documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002). At Motown, Wylie worked with theContours, Marvin Gaye, Marv Johnson, the Supremes, Martha [Reeves] & the Vandellas and Mary Wells, as well as the Marvelettes and the Miracles.

After leaving the label in 1962, Wylie signed to Epic as a solo artist and released a series of singles, but withlittle success. He freelanced for the local Detroit labels Golden World, SonBert and Ric-Tic, forging a strong partnership with Edwin Starr in particular, but also working with the singer J.J. Barnes and the vocal group the Reflections.

In 1966 Wylie launched his own Pameline imprint, best known for "Cool Off" by the Detroit Executives, first issued in 1967 and a favourite of Northern Soul cognoscenti. More than two dozen Pameline sides were subsequently compiled as the Popcorn's Detroit Soul Party CD in 2002. Wylie recorded several more Northern Soul classics under his own name, most notably the stompers "Rosemary, What Happened?" (on the Karen label) and "Move Over Babe (Here Comes Henry)" (on Carla) in 1968, and he briefly returned to Motown for "Funky Rubber Band" in 1971. He moved on to the ABC company and worked with the arranger Gene Page and several Motown alumni to create the orchestrated soul of Extrasensory Perception, his only solo album, in the mid-1970s.

For many years, Wylie was unaware of his cult status on the UK's Northern Soul scene and would encourage his kids to play frisbee with highly collectable singles he had produced and released on Pameline and Soulwax, the other label he had founded in the Sixties. in the mid-1980s, Wylie finally travelled to Britain to promote the Detroit-A-Go-Go compilation. in the 1990s, he worked with the Northern Soul aficionado Ian Levine, recording "Love is My Middle Name" and "See This Man in Love" for Levine's Motorcity label, and co-writing songs for his fellow Motown veterans The Contours and The Elgins, among others. Wylie also took part in the documentary The Strange World of Northern Soul (2003).

Pierre Perrone

Richard Wayne Wylie, musician, songwriter and producer: born Detroit, Michigan 6 June 1939; married (three daughters); died Detroit, Michigan 7 September 2008.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'