B-side of You Can Cry On My Shoulder
How could Brenda ever follow You Can Cry On My Shoulder? The answer’s simple enough: she couldn’t. Not really. Not right away, at any rate. The single was a resounding flop (Number 116 with a bullet, never troubling the R&B charts, never released in Britain), and we won’t meet Miss Holloway again until January of 1966.
Still, this B-side at least gives us a glimpse of where she’s headed, of what her future holds; this is one of the rare occasions when Motown replaced both sides of a planned 45, perhaps recognising that in light of the majestic A-side, the original choice of flip – Who’s Lovin’ You, a weak cover of a five-year-old Miracles B-side – just wasn’t going to get the job done any more.
This starts out plenty intriguing. The opening finds Brenda, as she so often was, in Mary Wells territory, but this isn’t yet another poorly-conceived cover version. The key difference this time is that Brenda is there as if by choice, conveying the spirit rather than the sound of Mary – and she’s a revelation, cigarette smoke drifting from the speakers as she tries her hand at being a sultry contralto. The backing is lushly confident, all guitar and flute and humming, echoey bass, while the melody is lovely, subtle and insistent; the first time I heard this, the refrain – which I took to be the chorus – stuck in my head for days. How many times did you mean it?, she coos, part plaintive plea, part wounded accusation. It’s really good.
But then the actual chorus hoves into view, bombastic and blaring, as if the volume’s suddenly been ramped up – strings swell, horns burst in the sky, and Brenda takes that as her cue to rev up and really let go, with predictable results. It’s like an uninvited excerpt from another, completely different song that’s just barged its way into the minor-key introspection we were enjoying; it’s not bad, but rather than sending us soaring, it brings the song crashing back down to earth with a bump.
There are lots of parallels to be drawn here with Kim Weston’s A Thrill A Moment, another ballad with verses full of foreboding and a chorus that’s completely out of proportion. It’s a pity, because it sounds like these are two very different records that have been spliced together – it’s not so much that they sound different, but rather that they feel different, the verses vulnerable and rueful, the chorus grand and histrionic. It’s as though the breakup story is being narrated, if not by two different women, then at least by the same woman who we’ve caught at two very different times.
If it’s an intentional device, intended to convey the narrator’s fractured mood, well, it doesn’t really work; Brenda would manage this trick so much better a few years down the line.
Still, if this is two different records sharing the same piece of vinyl, there’s no doubt in my mind which one I prefer, but that isn’t to say that the hypothetical other record the chorus seems to have been taken from is a bad one – it’s an impressive, full-bodied kiss-off that might have worked well in other circumstances.
In these circumstances, I’m left wishing I could hear the chorus that might have naturally grown out of these verses, as I suspect it might have been magnificent – or maybe it doesn’t even need the chorus at all, as the rest of the song stands up plenty well on its own. Even listening to How Many Times Did You Mean It as it actually exists, it’s still pretty good. It’s a first little glimpse into Brenda’s future, the role she’d go on to play now that the A-list superstar masterplan Motown had mapped out for her lay scrunched up in the trash. Bear this one in mind the next time we meet Miss Holloway.
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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“You Can Cry On My Shoulder”
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