B-side of Your Baby’s Back
(Written by Johnny Dawson)
The first Motown appearance (and last for a few years) for the Downbeats, the male vocal group who would later morph into mid-Sixties Motown hitmakers the Elgins (nothing to do with the Temptations, who were also confusingly once called “the Elgins”, but had to change their name because there was another group already called “the Elgins”, who in turn had nothing at all to do with the Downbeats who later became known as “the Elgins”… is anyone following this?) featured a song by label boss Berry Gordy Jr., on the A-side, Your Baby’s Back, but this B-side was given over to a number written by the group’s lead singer Johnny Dawson.
Refreshingly, while the A-side had been a sparse, plaintive, lugubrious doo-wop ballad, the B-side is a jaunty, uptempo rock-’n'-roll flavoured R&B romp, and infinitely more fun.
Opening with a slam of drums and an unexpected minor-key piano hammering away, and slathered in horns and guitars, it sounds hot and frothy and energetic, and (more importantly) really good. Dawson seems to be more in his element, his baritone voice delivering a strong performance with an audible smile on his face that can’t help but get you smiling along with him. He’s certainly more comfortable here than on the A-side; describing his performance, the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 2 explicitly name-check Sam Cooke, and they’re not wrong.
Despite the subject matter apparently being the aftermath of a messy break-up, the lyrics are giddy-with-love, head-over-heels stuff, matching perfectly with the bouncy, uninhibited music; Dawson’s narrator spends the entire song declaring to the object of his affections that he doesn’t want various kinds of material wealth, he just wants her to come back to him. (The title is never mentioned or explained; the gently self-mocking subtext is that our hero knows he’s unlikely to get his wish, but is asking anyway.)
Just about the most out-and-out enjoyable number out of the eight sides Motown had released in 1962 so far, my gut feeling is that this would have made a far better single than Your Baby’s Back, perhaps leading to more Downbeats singles in the three-year interval between this record and the Elgins’ Darling Baby in December of 1965. Instead, the single flopped, and the Downbeats went to being the forgotten men of Motown.
THE GRACENOTE CD DATABASE: A RANT
For some reason, this song has been incorrectly tagged as having the title “Request Of A Fool (a.k.a. I Wanna Know Why)” in the Gracenote CD database – the thing which names tracks when you use a media player to rip a CD to mp3 – meaning the same erroneous title has spread to last.fm and all across the Internet. This is a mistake, made by the first user to submit the data to the database and never corrected. The song isn’t called “I Wanna Know Why”, as far as I can tell; the lyrics don’t feature its real title, but it doesn’t feature those words either (in the first verse he says he “wants a note” from his departed girl saying she’s coming home, and in the second chorus he does indeed ask why she left a message saying she was leaving, but that’s as close as it comes). There’s nothing at all in the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 2 to suggest this was an alternate or working title, but even if it was, that’s clearly as far as it went, and no more accurate than (for instance) calling the Supremes’ Love Is Here And Now You’re Gone “a.k.a. Number One”; it’s a mistake.
The Gracenote database is full of similar tagging mistakes with regard to The Complete Motown Singles and other Motown CDs (for instance, on this same volume, the Pirates’ Mind Over Matter is mistakenly credited to British rockers Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, but this is flat-out wrong, an error made by someone trying to be clever and getting muddled; the Motown “Pirates” were actually none other than the Temptations, recording under a pseudonym.)
I wish people would bear this sort of thing in mind when citing the fact that certain duets appear to be credited to “Marvin Gaye and Valerie Simpson” as conclusive proof of conspiracy theories (of which more later; much, much later)… Basically, don’t believe what your computer tells you; automatically-recovered tag information is no more “official” than if you’d read it on Wikipedia, and much less likely to be accurate. It’s certainly not the word of God, as some people seem to believe.
We now return you to your scheduled programming.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in the Elgins? Click for more.)
“Your Baby’s Back”
|Singin’ Sammy Ward
“Big Joe Moe”