B-side of You’ve Changed Me
(Written by Smokey Robinson)
Somehow, somewhere along the line, Who’s Lovin’ You – which started life as a Miracles B-side back in the dark days of Motown’s Stone Age (or 1960, as I believe it’s called in the outside world) – seems to have become accepted as part of the canon of all-time Motown greats, a beloved Hitsville standard. This is the third version of it we’ve seen here on Motown Junkies, and it won’t be the last.
And yet it’s still not a terribly good song. There’s not a version of this I really like, not even the Temptations’ take (which may in turn have prompted this remake); it’s a harmless enough artefact from Smokey Robinson’s distant past, back when pseudo-country pastiches and plinky-plonky rhythms and cheap, stabbing staccato string breaks were where it was at in Smokey’s head. And Brenda’s version – despite her best efforts to ruin it, again, by detaching herself from both the tune and the words – is entirely pleasant as far as it goes. Recorded hastily to bulk out the rush-released Every Little Bit Hurts album (which was meant to be a cheap and cheerful début set, an introduction for new fans on the understanding it would be supplanted by heartier fare further down the line, but which would end up being Brenda’s one and only completed and released Motown LP), it’s patchy and carelessly assembled, but still not without its charm. I just don’t get it, that’s all.
Brenda Holloway is proving very difficult to write about on this blog, and Who’s Lovin’ You doesn’t make my task any easier. She’s manifestly not stupid – her sensitive, intelligent interpretations of some people’s songs are breathtaking, and we mustn’t forget she was a brilliant (if under-used) songwriter in her own right – so it’s confusing to come across her treating a song as a scribble pad to show off her vocal stylings, as though she just doesn’t understand what it is she’s meant to be singing. Similarly, you’d have to be some sort of idiot to argue she doesn’t have a great voice, because she obviously does: the power, the control, the grace, they’re all here in spades. And yet, time and again, we find her descending (and ascending and descending and ascending, etc etc) into some kind of sub-Whitney melisma routine, as though she’s warming up for an Aimless Warbling competition, almost as though she’s afraid of trying to hold a note (which would be fine if we didn’t already know she could knock 95% of Motown singers into a cocked hat if she so chose).
The way she pronounces the “Who” in the title here is particularly troublesome; at 1:40, at the end of the first chorus and the start of the second verse, over the course of just three words (“who”, “you” and “I”) she manages to pack in what by my very rough count is an astonishing twenty-three notes. I don’t have a problem with melisma per se, even melisma for its own sake can be thrilling, but not here. Why is it here?
It’s to Brenda’s credit that even after I take all the annoying parts of her vocal here, and add them to the uninspiring skeleton of a song she’s been saddled with, this is still an interesting record, I still come away wanting to hear what she’s going to do next. It’s the sort of thing which almost works better as background music than in the foreground under my microscope; I can imagine someone doing the dishes or changing their sparkplugs and hearing this on a radio in the next room and whistling along contentedly.
It’s hard to argue that it doesn’t sound nice, but given the pedigree of everyone involved – given this is Motown we’re talking about here, and in the summer of 1965 to boot – well, I’m just looking for more than pleasant and meaningless wallpaper.
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:
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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“You’ve Changed Me”
|Martha & the Vandellas
“You’ve Been In Love Too Long”