B-side of My Lil’s Run Off
(Written by Howard Hausey and Bruce McMeans)
Probably the best song Howard Crockett turned in for Motown’s short-lived country subsidiary – but that doesn’t make it the best record he made.
This has a cracking tune, including a genuinely (briefly) thrilling chorus, but it sounds as though it should be played out one of two ways – deadpan, drawled, maudlin 3am drunken scowl, or bouncy pop excursion. Both would work really well, so it should come as no surprise that Crockett opts for both and ends up hitting neither. Which is a pity, because more than any of his other efforts – perhaps more than any of Mel-o-dy Records’ other efforts – this one had the potential to go far.
Less than two minutes long, it’s hard to guess if Howard and his co-writer Bruce “Channel” McMeans ever envisaged anything for this one beyond a little B-side sketch. It’s a lament for a Latina ex-girlfriend (pandering ever-so-slightly to racial stereotypes, but then it is fifty years old and it’s never really offensive), the narrator explaining how he loved and lost etc etc in finest country tradition, except that it’s all set to a rousing skiffle-cum-Johnny-Cash shuffling rhythm, all brushed drums and maracas and movement, more rock and roll than country, which lends it a vibrant pop atmosphere and makes it feel faster than it actually is.
As mentioned above, the tune is particularly strong, too – when Howard unexpectedly bounces up the register to deliver the chorus (Her eyes were as dark / As the night with no stars), it’s a bona fide thrill, if only for a couple of seconds, Channel perhaps reminding people he’d had a number one pop hit just two short years ago and knew his way around a melody.
As with the A-side, Johnny Cash is all over Spanish Lace and Memories, but this time it’s not in a good way. Cash could do hardcore country and corny country, he could do exhilarating rock-pop and cheesy pop-rock, and when he got his wires crossed and mixed up two of those approaches on the same record, the audience (read: me) forgave him because they liked him so much, and because he’d earned the benefit of the doubt. Crockett has no such track record to fall back on, and so when he tries to mix the leaden, intoxicated drawl of the verses with the open-throated pop crescendo of the start of each chorus, the sound is that of a man falling between two stools, probably breaking a hip on the way down.
His drawl isn’t as cool as on the A-side, pancake-flat and grating against the pretty backing vocals, while his singing here is unexpectedly fine; you can hear both the passion and the smile in the choruses, definitely enough to make you wish he’d chosen that approach all the way through. But then this would have ended up as a pop record that happened to have mariachi horns on it, and Crockett wasn’t about to become a pop star.
But then I’m always finding nice things to say about bad records with good bits in them, and this is definitely one of those. It couldn’t have been covered straight away by the likes of, say, the Supremes, but it wouldn’t have taken a lot of retooling before you could imagine it appearing on one of their early LPs. Which, I suppose, is just about the best compliment I could ever pay a record on the Mel-o-dy label. There are better Mel-o-dy records out there, most of which we’ve already covered – but this is both Crockett’s least country and most accessible song, of that I’ve no doubt.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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“My Lil’s Run Off”
|Jr. Walker & the All Stars