In the late '70s, when the fortunes of Motown Records seemed to be flagging, Rick James came along and rescued the company, providing funky hits that updated the label's style and saw it through into the mid-'80s. Actually, he had been with Motown earlier, though nothing had come of it. After growing up in Buffalo and running away to join the Naval Reserves, he ran away from the Navy to Toronto, where he was in a band with future Buffalo Springfield members Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, named the Mynah Birds.They signed to Motown and recorded, though no record was ever released.

James again was signed to Motown as an artist, songwriter, and producer. His first single, "You and I" , topped the R&B charts and reached the pop Top 40. "Mary Jane"  was another hit. More hits came and went for James, then he hit it big with the million-selling "Street Songs" which also featured the hit "Super Freak." Rick James died of a heart attack on August 6, 2004, at his Los Angeles home