Producer and songwriter who is responsible for some of
the biggest Motown hits, including the gold record "If I Were Your
Woman", which Gladys Knight & The Pips took to #1 on the
Billboard R&B chart and the top ten on the Billboard pop chart in 1971. (It has since been covered by Alicia
Keys and Stephanie Mills.) One
of her co-writers was Gloria Jones, who recorded the original version of "Tainted
Love". The two of them
combined to write and produce The Commodores' first single, "The
Zoo (The Human Zoo)" in 1972.
It was Jones who suggested to Sawyer that Lionel Richie
should sing lead vocals for the group.
Sawyer wrote "Love Child" with Henry Cosby, Deke Richards, R. Dean Taylor, and Frank Wilson. It was one of the last #1s for Diana
Ross & The Supremes, even though it was not The Supremes, but The
Andantes, backing Ross. Ross
scored with another Sawyer composition, "Love Hangover", which
was co-written by Marilyn McLeod.
The song went to #1 on the pop chart and was nominated for a Grammy award,
and has since been nominated for induction into the Dance Music Hall of
Fame. Perhaps Sawyer's
most infamous collaboration was with singer-songwriter Lori Burton in the '60s. The two of them penned The Young
Rascals' first hit, "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore", which scored a
modest #52 on the charts but at least put them on the map. When they couldn't find a band
to record one of their songs, they made one up, literally. The name of the "group"
was The Whyte Boots, and "their"
debut single was "Nightmare", an homage to (or parody of,
depending on your point of view) The Shangri-Las' "Leader of
the Pack". It has become
a cult favourite although at the time it was
extremely controversial, and many radio stations wouldn't play
it. The plot of the song ends
in a grisly death at the hands of the singer/narrator. Rhonda Copland, Kathy Francis and
Page Miller were asked to pose as "The Whyte
Boots" although they had nothing to do with the song other than that
and it was Burton
supplying the vocals. There was
even some brief coverage of "the group" in Go magazine, but the girls quickly exposed their own ruse when Burton went into the
studio to record her Breakout
album, which included "Nightmare". Sawyer is still sought after for her
production and songwriting talents, and as recently as 1998 won an NSAI
award for best Urban Contemporary song, "The First Night",
recorded by Monica, and co-written with Jermaine Dupri, Marilyn McLeod, and T. Savage. When Jodi Watley
did a remake of "Love Hangover", Sawyer e-mailed her and
offered an alternative chorus that she had always wanted included, but Watley had already finished recording. Pam Sawyer is one of those
behind-the-scenes people that it is difficult to find information about,
but she is important because she was one of the first female producers and
songwriters at a time when both were scarce, and
undoubtedly paved the way for others to follow.
(Michael Masser/Pam Sawyer)