B-side of Sweet Thing
B-side of Sweet Thing
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Tamla Motown Records,
credited to “The Detroit Spinners”)
As with Who You Gonna Run To, it’s also important we don’t overlook that this is a really good song. The melody gets stuck in your head for days, the anguished narrator/angelic backing vocals arrangement is striking, there are cod-military march sections peppered throughout which just grab the attention… there’s so much to like. But the Spinners’ version isn’t the one to go for.
A disarmingly frank plea for forgiveness (you might think the title means “How can I make it right?”, but the first line is in fact “How can I go on living without you?”, which is much darker), both Brenda and the Spinners beg for mercy against a backdrop of horns and a barrage of Sixties easy listening proto-psychedelia – not least a choir of simpering backing vocals cooing doobie-doobie-doo! in high, floaty tones.
It seems to work better for a female narrator, for some reason. Perhaps Brenda just plays the capricious philanderer more sympathetically than Bobbie Smith – when Bobbie and the Spinners sing “My love for you strayed away just for a minute / But when I kissed her, my heart just wasn’t in it”, it doesn’t sound like a particularly convincing reason for us to take him back, whereas Brenda’s version sounds like she’s regretted that moment of foolishness ever since it happened. Having said that, I’m a boy, so maybe I’m just more easily swayed by it being, you know, Brenda Holloway.
Anyway. Both versions make heavy use of backing vocals doing weird and unexpected things, including a repeatedly barked staccato interjection of How can I! and the backing singers taking up much of the heavy lifting in the chorus (the I kissed another… bit), but the Spinners get the vocal mix all wrong in places, often creating a slightly jarring effect – very unusual for them. It punctures the sumptuous smoothness and sensuality of the track, in a way that’s more damaging when the version you’re hearing in your head is Brenda’s.
But then, this version’s got Bobbie Smith on it. When he half-sings, half-sighs “I deserve it, so go on and make me suffer”, it’s worth an extra mark all on its own. And the song’s so very much ahead of its time; it’s only the slightly primitive production and band arrangement (especially the grand piano) that stops it sounding like something from 1969 instead of 1964.
All my complaints about this being slightly scruffy are really only minor niggles, and it’s really only the existence of a better version which diminishes this one for me, and there’s really only a small gap between the two versions… but it’s the same size as the small gap between “rather good” and “bleedin’ great”, and I can’t quite bridge it.
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!)
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