B-side of I’ll Keep Holding On
B-side of I’ll Keep Holding On
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Tamla Motown)
Deviating from the expected norm never served the Marvelettes as well as some of their better-known Motown labelmates, in part because they lacked a strongly-defined identity to deviate from in the first place; rather than showing off their versatility and skill, their various mid-Sixties musical experiments instead give a picture of a group without focus, adopting a scattergun approach to reviving their stalling careers.
These are the Marvelettes’ wilderness years, their Dark Ages; right when the rest of Motown was going supernova, the label’s first chart-topping group were relegated to outsiders, new 45s appearing only sporadically, no new albums for four long years. But their records between 1964 and 1967 don’t just make for some fascinating archaeology, they rank among the best material cut by anyone at Motown during that golden time. If there had been a Marvelettes LP released in the spring of 1965, it would have been incredible. You’re My Remedy, Too Many Fish In The Sea, Little Girl Blue, I’ll Keep Holding On… and No Time For Tears, another fine entry in the canon. If none of these records sound like they were made by the same group – or, more accurately, I suppose, if all of these records sound like they were made by a group with no clear idea of where they were going – well, it’s still a great run of songs by a great group whose mid-Sixties work deserves more respect.
For most Motown groups in early ’65, even the never-hotter Supremes, the challenge was reinvention: keep things fresh by never standing still. It wasn’t like that for the Marvelettes, who found changing things up came naturally (and, indeed, probably unintentionally, riven with internal fights and left to grow up – both as a band, and as young women, all still under 21 – largely unsupervised by Motown).
The Marvelettes’ majestic muddle gave us so many curios that, in a sense, it’s hard to actually call them curios; better to think of it, perhaps, as some sort of great roulette wheel, and until it stopped spinning, the group were free to pursue any one of the many musical identities they flirted with throughout the mid-Sixties, trying them on like hats, and discarding them just as quickly. On No Time For Tears, the Marvelettes are soulful jazz balladeers, turning in something akin to the softer moments of Martha and the Vandellas, Kim Weston (in material, not voice), a kind of precursor to the Elgins (who later, and surely not by coincidence alone, ended up covering this song for their one and only Motown LP). Tonight, Matthew, we’re going to be… the Vanwestins!
(A British joke, there.)
But that makes it sound like this is just a rip-off, a weird cobbled-together hybrid agglomeration of bits of other people’s work. In fact, as with so many of these outlying Marvelettes tracks, they sound absolutely at ease: the sound here belongs to the Marvelettes and nobody else, it’s just that back in early 1965 it wasn’t clear which Marvelettes we’d be listening to in 1968. And No Time For Tears gives as many pointers as any other 45 side from the period: it’s slinky, assured, decidedly sexy, Wanda Young Rogers more and more comfortable in her own skin as the group’s newly-enthroned lead singer.
As on the A-side, the storming I’ll Keep Holding On, Wanda the would-be talismanic lead singer isn’t quite the finished article yet, and her vocal weaknesses are maybe more highlighted when she’s singing a song like this that leaves her more exposed, not to mention more open to (unflattering) direct comparison with Martha Reeves or Kim Weston. But there’s more than enough here to suggest great things in her future; she moves in and out of the spaces allotted to her by the tune, sometimes following the melody line, sometimes abandoning it completely, always magnetic, mesmerising. When she sings I’ve got too much joy / To worry about… An unfaithful, an unfaithful boy, she’s directly channelling Etta James – and the swirling Hollywood strings don’t exactly diminish the comparison – and she does it magnificently. She’s not got the voice yet – yet – but she’s got the moves, and she’s already grabbed all the limelight for herself, reminding everyone she was maturing into a world-class frontwoman.
Whatever their style, the Marvelettes have very, very few duff records in their future, something underlined by this supposedly throwaway B-side, an unexpected little treat.
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 Keep Holding On”
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“Do The Boomerang”
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