(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
Junior Walker has a habit of popping up right when he’s needed, just as things have looked in danger of getting a bit whitebread in the Motown kitchen. Here he is now, saving us from the engorged excesses of Tony Martin’s horrible Ask Any Man; indeed, given that both of these singles came out on the same day, I’m tempted to applaud the compilers of The Complete Motown Singles for their decision to sequence this one after that one, a down and dirty little palate-cleanser.
The All Stars, permanent outsiders at Motown (by virtue of their being completely different from most of their labelmates, more than anything else) hadn’t had a single in six months, and when a “new” Junior Walker 45 did appear, some observers might have been surprised to see it was actually a reissue of a three-year-old single originally released on the Harvey label back in 1962 (acquired in the deal that brought both the All Stars and their back catalogue to Hitsville). In fact, Motown had intended to bring Junior back to the fray with something new: I’m A Road Runner, a fresh new recording written and produced by none other than the super-hot Holland-Dozier-Holland team in an attempt to bridge that gap to a more mainstream audience. A catalogue number was allocated, promos were even ordered… and then a funny thing happened.
Cleo’s Back, a speculative new continuation of the Cleo’s Mood concept, recorded for the Shotgun album and then used as a flip to back up the All Stars’ previous single, the excellent Shake And Fingerpop, started to pick up airplay on black stations across the country. The momentum grew and grew, and suddenly Cleo’s Back had supplanted Fingerpop on the soul charts; the scuzzy funk groove outpowering the upbeat R&B jam. Never slow to react, Motown moved to push I’m A Road Runner onto the back burner, and to promote the three-year-old Cleo’s Mood as the new single in its place. Which officially brings us up to speed: to the end of December 1965, and the last single Motown would release before Christmas.