B-side of High Heel Sneakers
B-side of High Heel Sneakers
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
Pulled from the vaults to replace Funny How Time Slips Away as the flip of Stevie Wonder’s new single, this weird little exercise – coming across as part studio jam, part half-finished result of some kind of songwriting workshop – is like a mutant cousin to Martha and the Vandellas’ banging mega-hit Dancing In The Street from the previous summer, if it was slowed down to half speed. And if it wasn’t very good.
Stevie himself cops a songwriting credit for this one (still enough of a rarity at this stage of his career to be a noteworthy occurrence; nobody at Motown realised it, but right now he was a pupa, soon to outgrow his chrysalis and take flight), and it’s tempting to ascribe everything that’s good about this – the dirty, squalling harmonica, the lolloping horn-and-piano groove that drags its feet across the bumpy ground as it limps along – to his influence. Equally, it’s tempting to assign the duff parts (the dopey lyrics, the lack of purpose, the bursts of strip-club horns), to his co-writers: Stevie shares that writing credit with his specialist tutor Ted Hull, as well as (of course) his producer and day-to-day “handler” Clarence Paul.
In truth, there’s not enough evidence to suggest either of those things is really true. This grows on me the more I hear it, but quite honestly I don’t know if you can extrapolate anything at all about the future of Stevie Wonder, songwriting genius, from Music Talk.
My biggest problem with this, really, is that too often it slips into sounding workmanlike, routine, even dull. Coming on the heels of two live tracks, this certainly seems to be missing the buzz and thrill of a concert audience, but I think it runs deeper than that. Fatally, it’s a song about the joy and life-changing power which a love of music can bring, but done without passion, the words never leaving the page.
(And they’re not great words to begin with, the spectre of this having been cobbled together as some sort of ghastly group creative writing exercise – or even, shudder, Stevie’s schoolteacher coming up to him one day saying he’d written a song about how lovely music is – and ending up with a series of banal platitudes that call to mind the Beach Boys’ equally point-missing Add Some Music To Your Day. We don’t need to be told how good music can be when we’re actually listening to your music, guys. And certainly not if you’ve got no insights to bring to the table; the observations here are cookie-cutter “Music is nice” stuff, and Stevie imbues them with so little life that this could easily have been rewritten as, I don’t know, Woodwork Talk or something. “You’ve got an adze, that’s a special kind of plane… Measure twice, cut once, that’s what they say”. But I digress.)
Just as with the abortive B-side it replaced, Music Talk isn’t awful. There are some good musical moments here, and ironically they’re the moments which come over like the result of someone having fun messing around in the studio: the moments which are least staged, least preoccupied with telling us how much they love music, end up being the ones that sound most like these guys actually really do love music. But on the whole, yet again when writing about a Stevie Wonder 45 from this weird between-the-wars period, this feels like something of a pointless exercise.
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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“Funny (How Time Slips Away)”
“The Bigger Your Heart Is (The Harder You’ll Fall)”