Evilpedia tells us:
“Money (That’s What I Want)” is a 1959 hit single by Barrett Strong for the Tamla label, distributed nationally on Anna Records. The song was written by Tamla founder Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, and would become the first hit record for Gordy’s Motown enterprise.
Anna Records was operated by Gwen Gordy, Anna Gordy and Billy ‘Roquel’ Davis. Gwen and Anna’s brother Berry Gordy had just established his Tamla label (soon Motown would follow), and licensed the song to the Anna label in 1960 distribute this single nationally in order to meet demand; the Tamla record was a resounding success in the Midwest. The song features Strong curtly demanding that money is what he needs, more than anything else. The single became Motown’s first hit in June, 1960, making it to #2 on the US R&B charts and #23 on the US pop charts.
The song has been covered by a plethora of artists, including Buddy Guy, The Beatles, John Lennon during his solo career, Dave Matthews Band, The Kingsmen (US pop #16), The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Ike & Tina Turner, Bern Elliott and the Fenmen, Pearl Jam, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Flying Lizards, Shonen Knife, The Pretenders, Scissor Sisters, Secret Machines, The Sonics, The Smashing Pumpkins, Hanson, The B-52’s, Cheap Trick, Josie and the Pussycats, Great White, RC Succession, The Blues Brothers, The Avengers; plus Motown labelmates The Supremes, Jr. Walker & the All Stars, The Miracles, Etta James, Jimmy Barnes, Waylon Jennings and Boyz II Men.
The song was also featured in the movie Animal House in which it was performed by John Belushi. When the Blues Brothers band covered the song 18 years later on their Blues Brothers & Friends: LIVE! From Chicago’s H.O.B album it was performed by John’s brother Jim Belushi in the role of Brother Zee Blues along with Elwood Blues and Sam Moore.
Also, the song was used in the Beatles biopic Backbeat performed by a band composed of alt-rock musicians (including REM’s Mike Mills, and Nirvana’s Dave Grohl. It was mimed in the film by the actors playing the Beatles.
The British film The Bank Job featured the song as covered by The Storys, who were also featured as the wedding band in an early scene.
The song was listed as #288 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Barrett Strong recorded it for Motown in 1959.
The Beatles performed it for their audition for Decca records in 1962. Their producer George Martin played the piano. John sang lead. They didn’t get the deal but were signed on their next audition for Parlophone records.
The British experimental rock band The Flying Lizards had a hit in 1979 with it, which would be their only chart success.