b/w Voodoo Plan
Who let these guys back in again?
It’s probably fair to say that the Headliners, a white band (not a vocal group) from Florida who’d signed to Motown after having impressed with an eclectic genre-hopping live set, hadn’t exactly covered themselves in glory since arriving at Hitsville. Their one and only Motown 45 to date, Tonight’s The Night, a pale, clunky sort of effort, had seen a low-key release almost exactly a year ago, shoved out on the lower-profile VIP label. Things had changed since then: not only were Motown now successfully “crossing over” to white airwaves and Dansettes, but the label was also in a position to demand hits, to cut loose any stragglers who weren’t pulling their commercial weight. They’d flexed their muscles in this regard already, dropping several struggling acts (acts who didn’t have a long service medal from the dark pre-fame days to save their place in Motown’s bright new dawn) after just one flop single.
So it’s a surprise to see the Headliners turning up again here at the tail end of 1965, by which time Motown had no need for them, and no sentimental reason to keep them around. They weren’t particularly popular, nor were they particularly good, and so the only explanation is that since label owner Berry Gordy had stuck his neck out and signed them personally, they were being given special treatment: a golden-ticket second chance, a mulligan, a do-over. One more shot at successfully transferring their apparently electrifying live presence to vinyl.
So, we cue it up, and we get pumping bass, and tinkling, inviting piano, and a driving guitar riff – hey, this is pretty good! And then the vocals kick in, and… oh, it’s a sodding Beach Boys pastiche.
It’s a leaden helping of lumpen West Coast surf pop, aiming for the drive and froth the Boys had nailed with the likes of I Get Around or even Be True To Your School, but ending up sounding like a version of those songs as sung by a bunch of bored session men, a pretend “teen” group made up of 30-year-old blokes. It’s a spiritual cousin to I Get Around, but it’s not in the same league.
Wisely – other than an ill-judged reference to “old mister sun” at the start – writers Staunton and Walker (two respected, seasoned Motown hands, of whom I’d expected better) largely avoid having the Headliners indulge in cod-youth slang. However square Mike Love sounded declaring “I’m gettin’ bugged drivin’ up and down the same old strip!”, it was about a gazillion times more convincing than this, and I’m grateful the lead Headliner doesn’t really attempt it – but it still rings false, a plea to the older generation to just let The Kids have their fun but sounding inescapably old in itself, like its creators are no longer young enough to carry it off.
The song is weak in itself, but it’s again not helped by the Headliners, whose whole performance is off in such a way as to make this another wearying slog to listen to. The “harmonies” are flat and shouty, the lyrics are indistinct and mumbled, the playing which began so brightly ends up drifting off-time… and they don’t sound like they’re actually having the fun they keep on telling us they’re having, something of a major flaw and one which holes this record below the waterline. Check out the world’s most half-hearted attempt at a spontaneous shout of “woo!” at 1:48; the effect is more Pontins than Pasadena.
Of course, they may well have been in a bad mood at being presented with this song in the first place. The Beach Boys themselves had long since moved on from pushing this kind of sound at the forefront of their efforts on 45 or 33, rendering this attempt already dated. (If the Headliners surely didn’t kid themselves they were making a rival to I Get Around, it must still have been galling to play the tape back and find they hadn’t even made an Amusement Parks USA or Salt Lake City). Despite the brief thrill of the intro, and the sneakily likeable physical clunkiness it sometimes brings to the table, ultimately, this is a mess.
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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