B-side of I Can’t Believe You Love Me
(Written by Harvey Fuqua)
A nice little treat for fans of Marvin and Tammi’s late-Sixties duets, this is Tammi’s solo version of a song that became infinitely better known once half her vocals were removed (from what sounds like a different take to the one presented here) and Marvin Gaye dubbed over the top to create a pretend duet. (Indeed, we’ll be meeting that Marvin-and-Tammi version here on Motown Junkies in due time). Straight away, we’re thrown for a loop, when a gruff male voice – Harvey Fuqua’s, in fact, though this isn’t mentioned on the label – declares whoa, whoa in what later became Tammi’s place. What’s happening here?
It’s a good song, and it’s certainly interesting to hear it in this mix (or perhaps a couple of tape generations earlier than I’m used to?), where one of the song’s killer features – the organ line in the background – is clearer, crisper, less muffled than on the duet version. But this isn’t the original; even Tammi’s (spectaclular) lead vocal is a remake, Miss Terrell padding out her Motown début 45 by singing over a two-year-old, long-shelved band track.
Harvey Fuqua originally wrote and recorded the song back in 1963 for Ann Bogan, a singer from his Harvey/Tri-Phi days who came with him to Motown but found opportunities hard to come by until she was drafted into the Marvelettes. It went nowhere until Fuqua, needing material in a pinch, dusted it off here for use on this B-side. That organ riff – which, in Marvin and Tammi’s hands in 1967, seemed to have landed straight from Memphis, beguiling and fresh – was once seen as out of date, having been Fuqua’s mangled, very Harvey-ish attempt to write something in the mould of Chuck Jackson’s Any Day Now. Strange, because to my modern, 2014 ears, of all the Marvin and Tammi duets, this now sounds one of the least dated.
But that’s a story for another day. What of Tammi’s solo version? Having first heard this in its duet form, it’s impossible for me to listen to the Tammi version now without mentally expecting Marvin to appear on certain lines, and it’s a surprise to hear Tammi taking them instead. She does well, too, giving her best shot at dominating the track in Marvin’s absence, attempting to make up for the perfect Gaye/Terrell equilibrium by putting in a performance big enough for two. Her full-bore blasts on some of what became Marvin’s lines – When I’m alone / Alone and troubled / AND MY LIFE seems dark as night / Oh, I’ll ask / I’ll ask you, PUH-LEASE, yeah yeah… are a revelation, and while I can’t honestly say the song works better this way, it’s a highly creditable effort.
Of course, “solo” cut though this may be, she’s not alone here. Harvey Fuqua’s gruff, uncredited backing vocals from the duet version are already present – won’t you be-be my guiding light – and if anything, his presence actually makes more sense in Tammi’s version, the inexplicable (but highly memorable) moment from the duet when he chants “that the flame-flame will still be there!” turning out to be a response to Miss Terrell’s freewheeling off-the-cuff repetition in the previous line (tell me that the flame, that the flame, flame, flame… flame will still be there), a stylistic choice which Marvin didn’t replicate, leaving the duet version somehow more surreal than this one.
What’s the overall verdict? This works better as a duet – indeed, thanks to those grumpy Fuqua interjections, the original Ann Bogan version went through a phase of being credited to “Ann and Harvey” – but that’s hardly Tammi’s fault, and it’s still riveting in her (mostly) solo hands. Again, just like the A-side, Miss Terrell rolls the words around her tongue, channeling Diana Ross gone salacious, giving all sorts of deliveries that last in the memory. The way she sings “Now… all of my friends and my relations”, with perfect pause between “now” and “all”, is one of the best Motown moments of 1965. If the rest of the song is too slight and weird to really connect without Marvin Gaye and his chemistry balancing things out, this is still a fine record not easily forgotten.
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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“I Can’t Believe You Love Me”
“You’re Gonna Love My Baby”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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