Who Wrote the Highly-Covered R&B Classic “Money (That’s What I Want)”

The best things in life are free / But you can give them to the birds and bees / I need money (That’s what I want), plays the R&B standard “Money (That’s What I Want).” Coming to life in a jostled piano opener, the bright, bustling song is a fun, albeit one-track minded, classic.

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From the moment it came to be, “Money (That’s What I Want)” has had an impact. It helped to launch a musical dynasty and has since been covered time and time again by everyone from The Beatles to Boyz II Men, each new version never losing those iconic opening notes. So where did the classic tune come from and why was it so important in the first place?

Who Wrote It?

“Money (That’s What I Want)” was written in 1959 by Tamla Records founder Berry Gordy with staff songwriter Janie Bradford. The tune was first recorded by the young vocalist Barrett Strong and released as a single on Tamla.

The song became the label’s first chart-topper, helping to kickstart what would become the legendary Motown Records. “Money” would be the only hit Strong would record, but he would go on to co-write several Motown classics, like “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” “War,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).”

Hear his original version of the song below.

The Versions

Buddy Guy, The Searchers, The Supremes, Etta James, and so many more artists and outfits have given “Money (That’s What I Want)” a spin, but none popularized the tune quite like The Beatles. They would release their beloved version in 1963, giving the tune their boyish rock flair.

Another popular version came in 1979 when the band Flying Lizards textured the song with a new wave twist. The jarring beat and sleek vocals were a far cry from the original, but the Flying Lizards gave the standard a new life.

Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns

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