(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records; retitled “Why You Wanna Make Me Blue”)
Following the success of the Temptations’ big breakthrough single The Way You Do The Things You Do, which had propelled them into the limelight at the start of the year, the group had tried to repeat by cutting a much-inferior soundalike sequel. I’ll Be In Trouble isn’t awful, but it’s missing most of what made its predecessor special, and by extension it’s rather missing the point.
The best thing about that 45 was the happy-go-lucky exuberance of the B-side, The Girl’s Alright With Me, an engaging early flexing of muscles by future great Norman Whitfield and his temporary lyricist Eddie Holland turning in a lovely little pop song full of the smiles and energy that had made The Way You Do The Things You Do such a rush but which had been oddly lacking in the A-side.
It’s tempting (ha!) to wonder if Motown felt the same way; the label had every commercial reason to stick with Smokey Robinson as the Temptations’ writer/producer, the man who’d given them their big break, and yet for this, only the group’s third effort of 1964 with more than half the year already gone, Motown temporarily moved Smokey off the Tempts project and instead went with the guys who’d penned that B-side.
If The Girl’s Alright With Me had indeed won Whitfield and Holland the gig, it’s unsurprising that their submission for single ended up so much like that song. Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue) – the title frequently gets shortened to just the bit inside, or just the bit outside, the brackets – is pretty much a refinement on the earlier concept, the hooks and the performances beefed up, but on the whole really not so very different. And yet there’s more of the spirit of The Way You Do The Things You Do in this, a reminder of how great the Temptations could be when they were having a good time and everything clicked into place.
THE QUALITY OF MOTOWN
If my reviews baffle you, dear reader (and rest assured, if that’s the case, you’re most certainly not alone), then the Temptations’ run of 45s in ’64 provides an excellent benchmark for where my “head” tends to be “at”, as the young people say.
There’s a magical quality about Motown, good Motown, that’s hard to put one’s finger on. For me, it’s an effortless quality, a sort of feeling that the writers, producers, musicians – I accidentally typed “magicians” there the first time, and I’m not sure I was wrong – and singers were not only all on the same page, all in the same groove, but that they somehow knew they were making something really good.
It’s an elusive quality: people try to describe it by reference to the Motown Sound, or vocal techniques, or chord progressions, or goodness knows what else, but it’s harder to pin down than that.
It’s probably a subjective quality, too, in that the records I think have it are probably different to the records you think have it, and both of our choices are different again to the girl sat two tables away and the records she thinks have it.
The only thing that’s constant is that I find it easy enough to spot when a record does or doesn’t have that X factor, that pow, that zip, whatever you want to call it, even if I couldn’t really tell you why.
Here’s what it boils down to. Without wanting to sound like a Victorian riddle:
Its absence, strangely, is not a dealbreaker, nor is its presence a guaranteed winner. I find it in Mickey’s Monkey (towards which I’m broadly ambivalent), and I definitely don’t find it in Dream Come True or I Want A Guy (which I adore). It’s just that the records with it are strangely effortless, floating, and, well, magical, while the records without it, amazing though they might be, are things of flesh and blood and sweat and drumskins; they’re mortal.
I think – and I’m working this out on the hoof here, so apologies if I’m rambling more than usual – that it’s probably possible for someone with more knowledge of musical theory than me to identify, with accuracy and ease, the particular Quality of Motown to which I refer. But I’m not sure I want to get into dissecting just why I find some of these records so remarkable. All I’ll say is that it’s this, more than anything else, which seems to underpin which records I’m naturally drawn towards, which records I’m likely to end up giving favourable marks. And – in a last-ditch attempt at bringing this back to some sort of relevance – for me, Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue) definitely has it.
Your mileage, as always, may vary.
AND NOW, BACK TO THE SONG IN QUESTION
It’s easy to forget, listening to how good the Tempts sound here, and knowing what their next single is, that they were really only just settling into their imperial phase. This was only David Ruffin’s third single with the group; Smokey Robinson had only recently worked them into shape so that their voices together on record sounded as good as on stage; it was probably only a few months since Eddie Kendricks could control his voice enough to handle a lead like this, which he’d have utterly ruined in 1962 with a load of high-pitched falsetto squawking. Strange to say it with so many singles and shows and years under their belts, but these ’64-model Temptations are so different to their former selves that they’re almost like a newly-formed group.
There’s an excitement that goes with that, too, an excitement to hear more from the group who gave us The Way You Do The Things You Do, that can’t be sated by listening to the likes of Paradise, say, or Isn’t She Pretty, or playing through the rest of the odds and sods compiled on the group’s first LP, Meet The Temptations, a motley grab-bag of singles and B-sides from their first three years at Motown. That was then. This is now.
Accordingly, Whitfield and Holland turn in another high-powered R&B-pop number, full of big horns and big handclaps and a driving party vibe completely at odds with the heartbroken lyric. Eddie Kendricks gives his best lead vocal to date – high and untethered, but full of expressive angst (tell me why CAN’T you be true?) – he’s not just learned from Smokey, in parts of this record he’s doing Smokey. Robinson, watching from the wings as another producer worked with “his” group, must have allowed himself a wry smile.
Not only does this admirably solve the Eddie Question (the constant difficulties successive Temptations producers had encountered trying to keep Eddie’s remarkable high voice under control enough that he coloured inside the lines, but loose enough that he wasn’t earthbound and therefore wasted), it starts to sketch in the roles the Other Four could play in the new world order.
Five best buddies, big smiles all around, even as they ask you, the besotted female teenage listener, just what you think you’re playing at making them so miserable? It’s an old boy band staple, of course, to go with the boy band templates that are now being drawn up (and I mean that as a compliment); they’re not singing at you, obviously, you’d never treat them this way, would you? They know that, of course they know that.
Marketing an R&B-pop crossover with definite romantic appeal wasn’t a new art, but if ever there was a direct, equal and opposite response to the British Invasion and Beatlemania, the selling of the Temptations has to be it. Handsome guys (look at the British EP picture sleeve, right), excellent dancers (now blessed with the signature “Temptations Walk” as an immediate crowd-pleasing stage move, even if it seems hokey today), excellent singers with excellent songs, and now starting to be cleverly packaged in such a way that teenage boys needn’t feel embarrassed buying their records, but teenage girls will queue around the block just to be at the front, to melt when their favourite Temptation looks right into their eyes for just a second. Ah, teenage infatuation and pop music, always a potent – and profitable – combination.
But that’s to make this sound tawdry or exploitative, knocked out production-line style for an undiscerning audience. Not only is that a fundamental misunderstanding of teenage pop love – that audience is nothing if not discerning, and if you get it wrong they’ll bury you alive – but it’s completely unfair on this record, which is superb. The hooks are massive; the exasperated rising transition from verse to chorus as Eddie blends with the boys over a soaring bed of trumpets (Girl, GIRL, girl / Why you wanna make me blue?) is one of those great Motown moments that just makes you break out a great big smile, but there are other killer moments in here too, the opening drum-and-horn salvo among Motown’s best intros of the year (and this in a year hardly short of great intros) especially worthy of mention. It’s just a great record, and if it wasn’t the hit it deserved to be (ending up just inside the Top 30), it’s an excellent calling card for the future.
A big, brassy, bouncy irresistible rush of a pop song. Whisper it, it’s actually better than The Way You Do The Things You Do.
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.
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“Feel Alright Tonight”
“Baby Baby I Need You”