B-side of Ain’t That Peculiar
B-side of Ain’t That Peculiar
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Tamla Motown)
By now, Marvin Gaye has passed the point in his career where each successive B-side told a misleading alternate history. Long-time readers will remember that Marvin went through a phase where, hidden on the flip of every single he released, there lurked a perfectly acceptable follow-up to his last single; a consolidation, an exploration of an idea, a variation on a theme, all rendered obsolete because the A-side showed Marvin developing on apace, having already moved on from where he was at a few months ago.
But as 1965 takes hold, and as Gaye begins to focus himself – including no more indulgent MOR vanity projects, and a great many less duets – that’s become less of an issue. It’s a bit of a surprise, then, to cue up this flipside expecting more in the vein of the excellent Ain’t That Peculiar, and instead finding a woozy, bluesy little excursion that sounds for all the world like a throwback to Stubborn Kind Of Fellow, three years late and not half as much fun.
So, it’s off to check the books, and of course this sounds out of date because it is: She’s Got To Be Real sounds like something Marvin cut in the wake of Stubborn Kind Of Fellow and then shelved, because that’s exactly what it is. A window to the past – less than three years had elapsed since this was recorded, and yet the fellow we hear here (stubborn or otherwise) was already someone Marvin had long since left behind.
This is one of those ideas for a concept song which probably sounded better on paper, or being bandied about in a spitballing songwriters’ session, than the finished article ended up. It’s the story of Marvin “meeting” the woman of his dreams – quite literally, as in he meets her in a dream – and then dividing his time between trying to find her in real life, and looking forward to falling asleep so he can see her again. He even prays that he’ll fall asleep at work, because his dreams are the highlight of his day; it’s a good job he’s only a pop singer and not a forklift operator or train driver or something, I suppose.
Which isn’t the most promising idea to take any further than that brief abstract, when it comes down to it. So many love songs – or even pseudo-love songs like this one – fall down because the object of the narrator’s desire isn’t competently drawn, so they remain abstract and featureless, a non-person, nothing more than a prop for the narrator’s own self-indlugent fantasy. Here, that concept is taken to its absolute extreme – this woman isn’t just being idealised, she’s actually an ideal, and it’s actually faintly worrying to imagine Marvin scrutinising the faces of every female he encounters at the supermarket or on the train to see if she’s the woman he dreamed of; it’s the sort of thing that could end up with him getting arrested outside some student’s house.
(In fact, the closest he comes to describing her in any detail – and it’s about her appearance, which might otherwise cause a knowing look but which makes sense here because she isn’t real – is when Marvin asks us to “Imagine the Mona Lisa, mixed with a girl from a Playboy book!”, which sounds like an interesting idea until you think about it a bit more, and then out of morbid curiosity do a Google image search for that phrase and OH GOD MY EYES)
But anyway. Marvin’s probably louder here than we’ve ever heard him before, raw-throated and shouty when he probably should be crooning more softly but which is actually kind of refreshing, rendering the song slightly more confrontational than either Smokey Robinson (who co-wrote and produced this) or Marvin’s fans may have been expecting – but in the process adding a certain bug-eyed frenzy to the character’s daydreaming obsession, an amusing if unintentional subtext which plays the narrator as if we’re meant to think he’s losing it – and which I kind of like.
In fact, that probably explains why it was left on the shelf, never to grace one of Marvin’s studio LPs; it’s not that it’s a pale retread of Stubborn Kind Of Fellow, although the echoes are undeniably strong. Rather, it’s possibly just not something Marvin’s burgeoning, swooning fanbase was quite ready for back at the start of 1963, and perhaps it was only “safe” to release it here, now that Marvin was starting to carve out an identity for himself as the sexy, intense, brooding, hip-shaking star performer of future legend.
It’s not great – it’s weird and it’s been poorly thought out, and what’s more it’s badly dated, as well as musically derivative of a much better song Marvin had already recorded. Still, even if it says very little about the Marvin Gaye we’ve come to know here in 1965, you can’t really accuse it of being dull, and that’s worth a couple of marks in itself.
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.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in Marvin Gaye? Click for more.)
“Ain’t That Peculiar”
“My Girl Has Gone”