B-side of I’ll Be Doggone
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
B-side of I’ll Be Doggone
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Tamla Motown)
The inescapably sexist overtones of the A-side, I’ll Be Doggone, meant I couldn’t really take full pleasure in that song’s excellent, driving energy – not to mention it being Marvin’s first R&B Number One, and his first million seller. No such concerns here; if this is conceived on a much smaller scale than the plug side, if it’s not aiming for the same kind of heights, well, it’s still lovely, and I’ll never turn down the chance to hear Marvin Gaye making art to move the soul rather than the feet.
The Holland-Dozier-Holland team had scored a hit with Marvin’s previous (mainstream) single, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), and so, following the usual Motown “rules”, they should have been granted the opportunity to write and produce Marvin’s follow-up 45. But here, in 1965, those rules – developed at a time when Motown was just another struggling black label, rather than an all-conquering American institution – were starting to break down now that the sums of money involved were being counted in the millions rather than thousands of dollars. Put simply, Holland-Dozier-Holland were too valuable to be tasked with regularly writing and producing for more than a couple of the label’s top acts, meaning the Supremes and Four Tops got first dibs on the trio’s new material and everyone else had to wait their turn. You’ve Been A Long Time Coming was originally recorded with the Supremes in mind, not Marvin Gaye.
I’ve already talked some about how far and how fast the Motown house band had developed, but this is maybe the best example yet – the difference between the winter of ’63/’64 and the winter of ’64/’65 laid bare. Brian Holland’s ear for a melody, Lamont Dozier’s love of the drift and drive of his classical influences, both could now readily be indulged, their tunes heard the way their composers meant them to be heard.
You’ve Been A Long Time Coming is an airy ballad-cum-waltz sketch in 6/8 time, a song that you could easily imagine slotting in on More Hits by the Supremes (which is presumably, of course, where it was meant to go) – but it’s been made with so much more consummate care, the by now de rigeur string arrangement and the ghostly, echoing harmonies of the Andantes slotting in seamlessly as the band lock into their magnificent, telepathic groove, great billowing clouds of notes drifting by, smooth and open as the summer sky.
And look, here’s Marvin, excelling himself while singing a song written for a woman with a tessitura far above his own, sounding so beautifully and beatifically comfortable that the listener gets absolutely no indication this wasn’t actually meant for him from the start. It’s not the standout track on Moods of Marvin Gaye, above, just as it wouldn’t have been a standout track on More Hits – it’s much too small in scope for that, a mood piece (no pun intended) rather than an anthem – but what a great mood piece it is, and that’s all thanks to Marvin and the band.
Edward Holland Jr., quoted in the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles Volume 5: “Marvin Gaye was the fastest and quickest artist I’ve ever worked with in my life… I could sing it down one time, he would take the lyric sheet, and just sing it. He had this unique ability to hear the music and become part of it, because you think in terms of Marvin Gaye, he really had a very soft, sweet voice, basically. That’s what he loved doing.”
Ironically, for a man who spent his entire early career wanting to be Nat King Cole – and who, even as this song was being recorded, was busy making plans for his own tribute LP full of Cole’s songs (pictured right), the last time Motown would indulge Gaye by greenlighting a personal side project for quite some years – the best examples of Marvin’s sweet ballad voice aren’t to be found on the three albums of MOR standards he’d recorded to date in a failed bid to prove his supper-club credentials. Rather, the true beauty and wonder in Marvin’s voice – the voice that would have made him a success on that circuit – comes out when he wasn’t trying too hard to ape someone else, but rather when he really put his heart and soul into a song. This here is the real stuff, and it’s a thing to behold.
A song of gentle joy after pain, very much in the vein of the Supremes’ I’m In Love Again (another newly-recorded HDH B-side, which maybe explains why You’ve Been A Long Time Coming might have been dropped from any proposed early tracklisting for More Hits), Marvin singing words written for a woman, yet inhabiting them completely, baring his soul to his partner and the audience in a song that floats by like a dream… never in a million years is this a single, and a greater contrast to the A-side you’d be hard-pushed to find, but it’s effortlessly beautiful all the same. And let’s face it, I’m a sucker for a well-sung slowie, as is probably well known by now.
If you wondered why I got so hung up on the lyrics of I’ll Be Doggone (which I’d love to be able to rate higher, but in good conscience I just can’t do it), or how I can possibly be rating this so much higher than one of his classic singles, well, it’s because I love Marvin so much, and – when he’s on form – just listening to the man sing is a special experience in itself. This is a fine example of that, and it’s a pleasure.
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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“I’ll Be Doggone”
“Ooo Baby Baby”