The Contours are one of those Motown acts that almost never happened. Like so many careers in show business, it was simply a matter of being at the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. Though the Contours were the first act to be signed to Berry Gordy’s newly formed Gordy imprint late 1960, Gordy had send them away at first. The Contours were a rough and raggedy R&B group that simply didn’t fit into to Godry’s Hitsville USA vision for Motown. Contour Hubert Johnson proved to be the band’s backdoor. Johnson was Jackie Wilson’s cousin who agreed to groom the band and push them with Gorgy. Probably because Gordy had his first financial success in the music business with Jackie Wilson, writing quite a few of his legendary hits, he relented and signed the group. But just as Gordy expected, the group’s first few singles flopped.
Just as Gordy was about to drop the group when they lucked out again. Berry Gordy had written “Do You Love Me” and was certain it would be a sure fire hit. Initially he planned to cut it for the Temptations. Though the Temps were also struggling to find a hit, Gordy figured the group had a lot of potential. However when he couldn’t find the Temptations his excitement got the best of him. Gordy was itching to get his new song on wax. Bumping into the Contours at the Motown studios he decided not to wait and cut the single on them. Gordy’s gut feeling was right, “Do You Love Me” became the first million seller for the Gordy label.
Ironically it was their initial success with Gordy that proved to be the cause of the group’s gradual slide into obscurity. Motown had a specific hierarchy when it came to song writing. The author who had the last hit with the group would cut the next single on them as well. Since Gordy had hit big with the Contours, other songwriters like Smokey Robinson let the group to him. With Motown’s rapid expansion however, Gordy was too busy with the company to give the group much attention. Nor did it help that the group didn’t exactly fit into the company’s polished Pop vision on R&B music. The very Temptations the Contours snatched their hit from would soon cast their shadow over them. Question is though if the more polished Temps could have done "Do You Love Me" with quite the same fervor. Part of the songs success lays in Huey Davis' rocking guitar over the spoken intro and Billy Gordon raving vocals commanding the dance floor to work, work.
Though the Contours weren’t a one hit wonder, they charted eleven very decent R&B hits, most notably the Rock 'n Soul rouser "Shake Sherry," they might have slipped into obscurity if it hadn’t been for Springsteen using the song in the mid-eighties as part of a “Twist & Shout” medley (as shown in the video above). In the mid eighties, Springsteen was one of the few big R&R stars in the field still referring to the R&R hits of old, exposing them to an audience of millions. More significantly however, the song was included in the “Dirty Dancing” sound track. The subsequent re-release gave the Contours a hit once more and allowed the remaining members to tour like they never had before. Part of the Dirty Dancing tour that tapped into the craze of that movie, the Contours played across the globe for millions in total. Original member Sylvester Potts admitted years later in an interview; “because of that Dirty Dancing tour, we still have been working, pretty much solid, ever since. It's a blessing.”
"Do You Love Me (now that I can dance)," the Contours
Available on 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection