b/w What Now My Love
(Written by Richard Anthony and Silvano Santonio)
At first blush, this looks like a step backwards; the first time in three and a half years that Motown went to the trouble of buying in a finished record, paying for the rights to issue someone else’s single when there were several hours’ worth of top-notch unreleased home-grown recordings sitting in the vaults waiting for their chance.
The confusion only builds when we come to play the thing, and discover it’s a Merseybeat pastiche, a mid-Sixties attempt to ride the Beatles bandwagon; it’s quite a good Merseybeat pastiche, but, again, haven’t we done this already? Haven’t Motown grown too big for this sort of thing by now?
But then we dig a little deeper, and it turns out that rather than a retrograde step, this is actually a sign of Motown’s growing influence and widening ambitions. Richard Anthony was a star of the burgeoning French recording scene, and was starting to get airplay in England with his English-language cuts; Motown bid for the US rights to one of those singles – this one – and won the race, making Anthony the first European artist to appear on a Motown 45. The Sound of Young Europe.
M. Anthony, né Ricardo Btesh, was – is, since he’s still going strong at the time of writing – a genuine top-drawer French recording artist, packing out theatres and racking up hits on the French hit parade. He’d started out as a club singer in Egypt, growing up on the cosmopolitan banks of the pre-Nasser Suez Canal, mingling with French and British colonials and international visitors; as a result, he was fluent in several languages, not only becoming one of the first French stars to cover English-language American and British rock ‘n’ roll hits, but also one of the first to cover French hits for the English-speaking market.
By 1965, he could legitimately call himself one of the biggest names on the French rock scene. If he wasn’t exactly France’s answer to the Beatles, he came pretty close, with his armies of screaming fans and TV shows, his early alliance with the EMI empire even allowing him to record at Abbey Road in London, including his 1965 album Richard à Londres from which both sides of this single were taken. The cover gives a good idea as to Anthony’s appeal at the time: he looks and sounds like a rougher-edged Paul McCartney, slightly older, slightly chubbier but with a more worldly edge.
The record itself says a lot, too, about what on earth Motown were doing dipping a toe in these uncharted waters. It’s the sort of effortlessly bouncy, airy tune McCartney had turned in for filler on the early-mid Beatles’ LPs like A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles for Sale and – especially – Help!, slightly cheesy in places but with the authentic twang of Beatlemania stamped on it; only the brassy orchestral production (masterminded by the great Ivor Raymonde, about to become famous for his work with Dusty Springfield and the Walker Brothers) gives it away as hailing from a more MOR place than the Beatles were headed.
Even Anthony’s voice is not a million miles away from Liverpool, his French accent almost (though not completely) covered by his mid-Atlantic pronunciation, and the few occasions when his phrasing does mark him out as a non-native speaker just end up adding to the charm. In short, if someone told you this was a Beatles cover, you’d not necessarily doubt it; if they then told you it had also been a big hit, you’d not be too confused as to why.
It wasn’t a big hit, of course, and Motown wouldn’t be buying in any more Richard Anthony records to repeat the experiment, but the attempt makes sense all the same. I like the whistleable tune, I like the energy Anthony brings to this (when you consider the maudlin mess a contemporary like Claude François might have made of the same material), and the mariachi horns are an unexpected but welcome touch.
An irrelevant jaunt for Motown here at the height of their mid-Sixties powers, perhaps – the label’s own writers and singers were coming up with better pop records than this one in-house – but the whole thing ends up being sneakily likeable, and I’ve no quarrel with it at all.
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!)
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“The Two Of Us”
“What Now My Love”