b/w Sad Song
(Written by Frank Wilson)
b/w Sad Song
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Tamla Motown)
Of all the questions prompted by Motown’s sudden and meteoric rise to something approaching omnipresence in 1965, I doubt “so, what’s next for Brenda Holloway?” was near the top of anyone’s list of burning issues. The erstwhile Next Big Thing had suffered badly during the course of the preceding year, wrongfooted by a misguided corporate decision to saddle her with a job lot of Mary Wells’ hand-me-downs and then stymied by a lack of promotional clout when she cut material better suited to her own voice. Her last single (back in August), the magnificent once-in-a-lifetime You Can Cry On My Shoulder, had missed the Hot 100 (indeed, it barely scraped the Hot, um, 120); six months on and Together ‘Til The End Of Time suffered the same commercial fate, and by then, nobody was really talking about Brenda any more.
This isn’t quite the sound of Motown washing its hands of their one-time brightest new hope, but it doesn’t exactly smack of confidence either (no more direct involvement from the big names, a track recorded not in Detroit but Brenda’s native Los Angeles courtesy of Motown’s already-deprecated West Coast office, saddled with a re-used two-year-old archive cut, Sad Song, on the B-side); Brenda and Motown weren’t through with each other just yet, but her shot at the really big time, the one-name superstar diva territory she’d once looked destined to achieve, had pretty much officially come and gone.
But here begins the strange second act of Brenda’s Motown life, a life from now on mostly lived out of the spotlight. On my radio show, I’ve christened her the Queen of Unreleased Motown, because while there were a lot of artists who toiled largely in the dark at Hitsville stockpiling new music, precious little of which ever saw the light of day, Brenda remains a case apart: from here through her eventual walkout in 1968, during which time she troubled the Top 40 chart compilers just once more, the tracks we’ll cover on Motown Junkies represent only the tip of a particularly hefty iceberg. There are absolutely dozens more Brenda Holloway cuts under the surface, cuts which had to wait for the CD era to be heard – indeed, cuts which are still waiting, fifty years later – and, crucially, cuts which under different circumstances could, just feasibly, have been enduring hits.
This isn’t really one of them, and if I’m being honest, nor is it one of her very best – but as well as being really rather lovely, it’s an important step towards her finding that elusive voice of her own. Together with her previous effort’s flip, How Many Times Did You Mean It, it marks a restatement of values, a kind of reboot. Away from the crowds, Brenda quietly finds a thread long abandoned, a thread that ran through her mesmerising debut Every Little Bit Hurts and its beguiling sequel I’ll Always Love You; now that nobody’s really watching, left to her own devices, she picks that thread back up again, and it’ll take her somewhere new and unexpected, somewhere difficult but occasionally very rewarding. We follow, with caution. Continue reading