B-side of It’s Growing
B-side of It’s Growing
(Released in the UK under license via EMI / Tamla Motown)
A winning recipe, right? Unfortunately, there’s a subtle but undeniable difference between “Smokey wrote and produced this album” and “Smokey wrote and produced everything on this album”. The LP did feature the last two Temptations singles, My Girl and It’s Growing, both bespoke creations for the group by Smokey, but otherwise Robinson was busy with other matters – not least his own performing career having rather neglected the Miracles over the past eighteen months while giving away all his best songs to other people – and he wasn’t about to write another ten new songs to bulk out the Temptations’ album.
So, instead, The Temptations Sing Smokey is more of a covers LP than a new artistic statement; The Temptations Sing The Smokey Songbook might have been a more apposite title. With one astounding exception (of which more later), the rest of the album sees Smokey and the Temptations in recycling mode, recording new versions of a great many old songs Robinson had provided over the last three years, material previously recorded both by the Miracles, and by the recently-unwelcome Mary Wells. Some of the remakes are better than the originals, and some – like this one – aren’t.
Long before she walked out on the company and found herself ostracised, Mary Wells had had the first crack at this song, recording her version back in early 1963 as the B-side to Your Old Stand By; Mary’s original version, a jazz-inflected torch ballad a million storeys high, casts a huge shadow over the Temptations’ subsequent re-recording.
Given a chance at a do-over, Smokey takes the opportunity to tear down and rebuild the song, adding a whole new passage, a dramatic, pounding, ominous intro full of deep harmonies and string stings which grabs the listener’s attention every time it comes up (Robinson wisely re-uses it later in the song). It’s excellent, both driving and genuinely intense – but then when Eddie Kendricks’ lead vocal strikes up and the song promptly collapses back into Mary’s original arrangement, a much more restrained proposition, all of that drive and intensity, all the energy, flows right back out of the record.
Worse, the original’s crowning moment of awesome glory, Mary’s astonishing leap up the scale to nail a perfect, show-stopping high note – “what LOVE has joined together” – is gone. It’s unclear whether Smokey removed it from the new arrangement because Eddie’s falsetto singing voice is so much higher than Mary’s smoky contralto, or whether Eddie just chickened out of tackling it, but in its place is a dreadfully disappointing middle eight where a chorus should be, the group reciting the title phrase in a completely flat monotone (“love – has – joined… together”), adding a huge pause after “joined” and then hurrying to squash three syllables into a space only meant to fit two, almost gabbling out that last “together“. I don’t think it would be particularly good even if I’d never heard Mary’s version, but playing them back to back is a comparison that does Eddie and the boys no credit; the Tempts sound like racehorses pulling up at a particularly tricky fence.
That lack of derring-do permeates the whole record, giving it something of a “will this do?” feel, rather than the soaring ambition of the original. What we’re left with is pretty much the very definition of Temptations album filler, a pleasant but largely pointless retouching of a song that didn’t have anything wrong with it in the first place, while that new bit would have graced some other record; it’s wholly wasted here.
All still nice enough, and it sounds good, but considering the heights both Smokey and the Temptations were now hitting with regular abandon, “nice enough” isn’t, well, enough.
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!)
Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- Mary Wells (April 1963)
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