(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
We’ve only just reached February 1966 and already every side of every single, er, single we’ve seen this year – this Motown year, I should specify, since it’s taken me, like, four actual ones to get through these first few weeks of ’66 – has earned a big green number at the bottom of the review. For new readers, the marks are meant to be a fun conversation starter, not the be-all and end-all of my thoughts on a particular song, but still… including the last weeks of December 1965, that’s a streak of fourteen straight songs I’ve rated as, at the least, very good.
Make that fifteen. Hope it isn’t getting boring! If my praise starts to sound repetitive, do me a favour and stick the actual records on – right now, they’re all brilliant. Nothing much I can do about that.
Motown was on a tear, no question, and for most fans 1966 marks the apogee of the label’s anything-but-mythical Golden Age, the time when everyone at Hitsville was at their very best. Motown’s prodigious output would be one thing, but the quality of that output at the time is, by and large, the stuff the label’s legend is built upon. Just as the city’s motor industry was firing on all cylinders, Motown brought worldwide attention to Detroit in the mid-Sixties, as the most successful music industry talent-spotting and -gathering operation of all time came to fruition. Berry Gordy had gathered around him the absolute cream of the industry’s black American talent, whether that meant in songwriting, musicianship, production, singing, dancing, marketing… you name it, Motown probably had someone who was the best at it.
Even more remarkably, some of this unique confluence of brilliance had happened entirely by accident; the Supremes were famously the runts of the litter, Stevie Wonder was a “blind dancing kid with harmonica” novelty act, Smokey Robinson just happened to be Berry’s friend. Did Motown realise they had signed the future biggest and most famous girl group of all time, and two of the greatest singer-songwriter-producers in history, any one of whom could have sustained an independent label of their own for years? What about the session drummer, Marvin Gaye? Or the A&R secretary, Martha Reeves?
And yet, astonishingly, there had still been some Ones That Got Away, even in Detroit. The Four Tops had somehow lasted until 1964 as perennial and well-known “local talent” before getting a single on Motown, ten hitless years of hard slog rewarded and paid in full. By teaming the Tops with the Andantes, the immortal Motown female backing singers, the Holland-Dozier-Holland team created something close to alchemy, a blend of beautiful voices and gritty soul sensibilities verging on the perfect (and sometimes, as in the case of their début Motown 45 Baby I Need Your Loving, actually perfect). This record may not be quite as good as that one (because, frankly, almost nothing is), but stone me if it’s not brilliant anyway.
Fifteen in a row, ladies and gentlemen. The Sound of Young America, conquering the world. Continue reading