Frank Wilson, who died yesterday at the age of 71, was best known for his heart-burstingly joyous unreleased 1965 single Do I Love You (Indeed I Do), which eventually became a northern soul anthem and, famously, the most expensive single in the world — in 2009 one of only two existing copies sold for £25,742.
But after his solo career stiffed he continued to write for other Motown artists and played a cameo role in the label’s politicisation. When Holland-Dozier-Holland withdrew their labour in a row over royalties in 1968, Berry Gordy assembled a crack team of songwriters (called, somewhat unwisely, “the Clan”), installed them in a suite at the Pontchartrain Hotel, and told them not to come out until they had a hit for the Supremes. The result was Love Child, a gritty tale of the daughter of an unmarried mother who has grown up “hurt, scorned, rejected” and now explains to her lover why she doesn’t want to repeat the cycle. The topic made Motown nervous until Gordy persuaded the Clan to sweeten the song with an uplifting ending. It became the biggest hit of the Supremes career. The success of a record explicitly set in the ghetto (and a streetwise image to match: this was the first time the Supremes were allowed to drop the gladrags) encouraged two other Motown writers, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, to tackle political issues and thus kickstarted soul music’s protest boom.
Of the four songwriters, I doubt it was Wilson who pushed the song in a socially conscious direction (I suspect it was Pamela Sawyer), although he did co-write two other issue-driven songs for the Supremes: I’m Living in Shame and Stoned Love. Whatever his personal investment in the lyrics, it was his flair for musical talents that ensured those lyrics reached so many people. (Meanwhile the disco fan in me loves him for his work on Eddie Kendricks’ epic Girl You Need a Change of Mind, one of the great proto-disco productions.)