(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Tamla Motown)
Many people (me, for a start) call the mid-Sixties Motown’s Golden Age, and with good reason: the label released so many classic hit singles between 1964 and 1967 that it’s often hard to believe they all came out of the same tiny Detroit townhouse. By the start of 1965, the stage was set for world domination, and pretty much everyone knew their roles. The writers and producers were in place, the Supremes, Temptations, Vandellas and Four Tops were nailing hit records left right and centre, and a whole supporting cast of superb acts – any one of whom could spring a classic Number One on their day – were lined up six deep on the release schedules.
With all of that in mind, it’s something of a surprise to arrive in January 1965 and realise Motown still didn’t know what to do with Kim Weston.
By now, rare was the Motown artist who continued to receive the label’s blessing (and investment) even though they weren’t getting hits; rarer yet if that artist had no direction, no clearly defined sound, no regular working relationship with a producer.
Still, like a few other misfiring members of Motown’s golden generation, Kim had some big cards left to play, cards which may have helped protect her from the ever-present threat of the axe. First off, she was married to the label’s A&R director, top writer/producer Mickey Stevenson, which has led to endless unjustified claims of nepotism, but which surely didn’t hurt her chances of sticking around. And secondly, she’d won the plum role of duet partner for another Motown family connection, the boss’ brother-in-law Marvin Gaye, effectively replacing Mary Wells in the process. As well as the pair’s first duet 45, the bouncy What Good Am I Without You, Kim’s solo career – which had stalled after a brace of excellent but non-chart-bothering singles in 1963 – had received a commensurate boost as well.
The return of Kim Weston to the Motown front lines is reason for celebration everywhere, since as well as being connected, she also happened to be brilliant – as she is again here, obviously – but the Motown larder was well-stocked with brilliant artists, Hitsville the only place on Earth where brilliance alone wouldn’t put you ahead of the chasing pack.
Kim’s Motown singles to date here on Motown Junkies have been an eclectic mixed bag, a hotch-potch of different styles and settings, with no discernible thread connecting them other than Miss Weston herself. The consensus seems to have been that while she had a remarkable voice – and she really did, she was probably the most technically gifted singer on the company’s books, her smouldering contralto both laser-accurate and extremely powerful with it – she was stymied because nobody at Motown knew how best to deploy her talents.
She could wipe the floor with the competition doing slow-paced torch ballads – Go Ahead And Laugh (dusted off and re-used as a B-side here), Just Loving You – but then Brenda Holloway was already being pushed in that direction, and moreover Brenda had managed to have some hits with that sort of material.
She’d proven an excellent vocal foil for Marvin Gaye in Mary Wells’ stead, so would she directly replace Mary Wells’ solo career, too? Nope – her attempt at a breezy My Guy soundalike, the woeful Looking For The Right Guy, had been a commercial and critical dud. Even though both Mary and Kim were husky contraltos, there was a throaty, raw quality to Miss Wells’ vocals that Kim just couldn’t replicate. Again, most of Mary’s material was passed to Brenda Holloway, much good though it did her.
Motown didn’t give up there. Kim could do various midtempo R&B-pop grooves in an attempt to find her niche and show off her voice – doo-wop and blues on Love Me All The Way, breezy pop hooks and emotional pain on It Should Have Been Me, R&B-pop on Another Train Coming… All good, and everything, but none of it exactly right, either for Kim’s voice or personality.
She’d turned in her best effort to date with her last single, the excellent A Little More Love, but after that record too had stiffed, it was back to the drawing board yet again for Motown’s most enigmatic vocal talent. Mickey Stevenson (Mr Weston himself) and Sylvia Moy, who’d paired up to write her previous 45, brought in Stevenson’s new writing partner Ivy Jo Hunter to try and crack the problem. The result is plenty intriguing: for the first time, Motown’s biggest voice was given a storming uptempo Motown workout written especially for her. And thus begins Kim Weston’s transition from underused curio to genuine soul queen.
It’s not an easy transition, mind you, and it’s not fully accomplished here – Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say – but I’m Still Loving You has more in common with Kim’s future than her past, and it’s a welcome development.
This one starts off in distinctly unpromising fashion, a ridiculously huge quasi-operatic intro – blaring horns, the Andantes doing a full-on choral overture, a bombastic chant of I’M STILL LOVING YOU! / NO MAT-TER-WHAT-YOU-SAY-OR DO! – which is pitched way too big for the ensuing song, and threatens to capsize the whole thing and pitch Kim overboard with it before we’ve even got going. It’s poorly-conceived, strident and cold, and it means the song proper starts off at a disadvantage.
(In my head, this song invariably gets mashed up with another (later) stomping Stevenson production with a similarly huge intro, Frances Nero’s Keep On Lovin’ Me, which always leads me to disappointment when a favourite misremembered bit from one song turns out not to be in the other, but I suppose that’s hardly anyone’s fault. What is noticeable is that while both records attempt to grab the listener by the throat, Miss Nero’s 45 manages the trick rather better than Miss Weston’s. But I digress.)
Kim gamely fights her way back from the ridiculous intro, with the aid of a lovely melody and some very pretty strings straight out of the John Barry or Monty Norman playbook (and I do mean straight out of it, the main chords here are lifted directly from the James Bond theme), as she launches into the story of a woman who’s having trouble moving on past a particularly messy and painful breakup.
It helps that this is her best vocal yet, the first time she’s not being pushed out of her natural tessitura, squeezed by force into a space that wasn’t originally carved out for her. And she is excellent here, able to compensate for the wildly uneven tone of the song, switching between the beautiful heart-on-sleeve verses -
Last night, I wrote you a letter
I tore it up today
(Tore it up today!)
It read: ‘…Not doing any better
Since you went away’
- and the massive chorus, a reprise of the intro which demands Kim ramp her voice right the way up (in terms of both scale and volume) to compete with the Andantes’ bellowing soprano parts, in order to convey a woman on the edge.
If the chorus were dialled down a bit, this might have been absolutely sensational (and would have also made for a stunning duet between Kim and Marvin – my mind’s already pencilling him in for alternate verses of a cover that sadly doesn’t exist.) Instead, by reaching too far too soon, this ends up diminishing some of its impact, and doing something of a disservice to Kim’s exceptional lead.
But it’s a start nonetheless, and while the record didn’t chart either in the US or Britain (where it flopped so spectacularly that it’s now considered one of the rarest of all Tamla Motown 45s), this particular genie couldn’t be squeezed back in the bottle. If it wasn’t quite Kim’s ticket to Motown’s top table, it also made sure her claims to stardom could never be ignored again.
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 Kim Weston? Click for more.)
“Come On Back (And Be My Love Again)”
|Martha & the Vandellas
“Nowhere To Run”