B-side of I Don’t Know What To Do
(Written by Gilbert Becaud and Carl Sigman)
When paying for the rights to issue a 45 by French star Richard Anthony in the USA, Motown seems to have hedged its bets; raiding Anthony’s English-language LP Richard à Londres for material, they’d chosen the bouncy Beatles pastiche I Don’t Know What To Do for the A-side, while here on the flip, they went for a full-on MOR ballad, an English translation of Gilbert Becaud’s depressing French original made even more syrupy by a wearying mid-60s showbiz production that drains what little life the tune had left in it.
If the contrast between styles could hardly be greater, well, again we find that weird phenomenon where a bad B-side undoes much of the good work of the plug side, in this case highlighting the tendency towards cloying MOR glurge and overdone arrangements that I now see in hindsight were there all along in I Don’t Know What To Do; not only is What Now My Love a bad record, it’s a bad record that’s actually making me like the A-side less in the process.
In some ways, Motown’s choice of tracks from Richard à Londres (pictured left) is understandable enough. Trying to break a new face in the market, they wanted to show off all sides of his personality: he’s not just a pretty face, a French Paul McCartney who could do whistleable pop epics like Help!, he’s also a French Paul McCartney who could do doleful, portentous MOR epics like Yesterday. And sure enough, this turns out to be a much-beloved song, recorded many, many times by Anglo artists looking to add a dash of MOR sophistication and European culture to their palettes, but there isn’t a single version of this I’ve ever found to be anything other than pompous, bloated and empty.
Richard Anthony’s version as heard here is particularly dismal, a bolero turned into a deathly dirge, verging on the unlistenable in places; every time I start to soften my stance towards the record, it goes and does something that makes Tony Martin look like a model of subtle stoicism, or drops in a weird choice of chord progression that sounds like an accidental bum note. And Anthony himself is awful here; he was fluent in English, but you’d never know it from this, which makes him sound like some French guy Motown found at the bus stop and gave him a page of English text to read phonetically.
The whole thing is laughably bad, but the ending is especially ridiculous, a towering, “dramatic” big finish (after less than two and a half minutes of music!), positively sticky with sated, self-satisfied glee, Anthony sounding like Jacques Brel taking the piss on an epic scale but without the subtle wink to the audience: he’s playing this absolutely straight, even as we’re wetting ourselves at the strangulated, unwarranted ludicrousness of it all.
Genuinely terrible, the sort of thing that gives all French pop music a bad name (as well as leading directly to the likes of Peter Sarstedt), and completely unforgiveable.
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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“I Don’t Know What To Do”
“Hang On Bill”