B-side of Children’s Christmas Song
(Written by Ronald Miller and Walter O’Malley)
After the horrors of the A-side Children’s Christmas Song, Motown could have shoved pretty much anything on the flip and it would have sounded like a relative masterpiece. Maybe that was the idea; certainly Twinkle Twinkle Little Me comes as a blessed relief straight away, simply by dint of not having an out-of-tune children’s choir shouting on it.
Of course, that initial bloom of goodwill can’t really last. This is another Supremes single in name only, essentially a solo showcase for Diana Ross; there are backing vocals towards the end, but I don’t know who they are, and they’re little more than window-dressing anyway; Miss Ross is absolutely front and centre here. It’s hard to know what to make of it; another unusual choice of track to promote the Supremes’ now long-forgotten Merry Christmas album of festive tunes, it features Diana singing from the perspective of the star on top of a Christmas tree. Yes, you read that right.
It’s actually a rather sweet little song; I get the feeling that, boiled down to its core ingredients, it’s meant to be a story somewhere in It’s A Wonderful Life territory, a magical star sent to Earth to watch over you, make your dreams and wishes come true. Certainly that’s the impression I get from Stevie Wonder’s later cover version, anyway, but Diana Ross brings an added element to the mix, all subtext but still there nonetheless, a romantic element that suggests she chose this assignment to be closer to you, the listener, silently pining away as she watches you go about your daily Christmassy duties, and raising the Toy Story conundrum of what happens when she gets put back in an attic box in January. Or perhaps that’s just me.
But because Diana Ross has (probably unfairly) since gained a reputation as a limelight-loving diva, it’s difficult to listen to this one now – it’s titled Twinkle Twinkle Little Me, for goodness’ sake – and respond sympathetically. There’s a double measure of preciousness here, a kind of precocious cutesy flavour to proceedings, with the unacknowledged (but, again, there) assumption that we find her as adorable as she thinks she is, and that’s a tricky tightrope to master if you’re going to avoid falling on the wrong side of irritating. Especially so if your reputation goes before you, colours the character and the characterisation, builds preconceptions you’ve then got to knock down before reaching the listener.
When this appeared at the end of 1965, Diana Ross hadn’t yet acquired any of that baggage, and yet it’s still her, singing a song that’s almost painfully sickly-sweet. It’s a credit to her performance that she almost makes it work; if it comes over as something more of a novelty for the under-ten crowd than a serious romantic or holiday ballad, Diana nonetheless makes a decent fist of keeping it together, sticky self-satisfied glurge and pretty chord changes and all.
Certainly better than the A-side (but then, let’s face it, how could it not be?), this is also rather better than I’d remembered. If it’s not exactly one I’m going to be rushing to play again, an uninspiring record built on a flawed and hokey premise, it’s still got its moments, and Diana Ross is responsible for them all.
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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“Children’s Christmas Song”
“Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”
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