MiscellaneousRayber 1001 (B), January-April (?) 1959

B-side of I Can’t Concentrate

(Written by Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson)

Label scan kindly provided by Lars “LG” Nilsson - www.seabear.se.  All label scans come from visitor contributions - if you'd like to send me a scan I don't have, please e-mail it to me at fosse8@gmail.com!In many ways, it’s a bit of a shame this record’s weird status as an early Motown/Not Motown curio has kept it out of the generally-accepted canon.

I mean, it’s not amazing or anything; both sides are pleasant enough, but hardly life-changing, this little doo-wop sketch being the weaker of the two. It’s perhaps a pity no more was ever heard of Wade Jones; there’s nothing here to suggest Jones had much of a career ahead of him as a star singer, but he’s not bad or anything, and the A-side I Can’t Concentrate showed definite songwriting potential. It’s not even that my decision to accept it in my personal Motown canon means this is now our first exposure to William “Smokey” Robinson, rather than the horrible cack-handed Sheb Wooley pastiche It as per the “official” discography.

No, it’s that this actually makes a bit more sense as a Motown “origin myth” than the actual official first Motown record, Marv Johnson’s Come To Me, which was a success right off the bat, hitting the national charts once it had been picked up by United Artists and setting a chain of events in motion which would inexorably, if improbably, lead to Motown becoming the greatest record company the world has ever seen.

This, by contrast, is very much a tentative, toe-in-the-water, we-don’t-really-know-what-we’re-doing-yet sort of a record; even if Wade Jones’ credentials as a candidate for First Motown Recording Artist are themselves decidedly shaky (we’ll never know for sure, but it seems likely this came out later in January 1959 than Marv Johnson’s record – indeed, there’s plenty of compelling evidence that it may not have surfaced until several months of the year had already passed), it somehow all feels more plausible as a first attempt.

Insane is a nice enough song, despite its rough edges. It’s a slow, chugging doo-wop ballad that barely scrapes past two minutes but feels shorter still. It’s not really clear what this little vignette was meant to achieve; is it showcasing the range of Wade Jones, the artist, in the hope of some radio play or a contract from an establishd label? Or is it an advert for the songwriting services of the Rayber company, Berry Gordy’s offer to do something like this for you, too – so long as you had the necessary green?

It didn’t achieve either of those purposes; Wade Jones was never heard from again, and neither Berry Gordy nor Smokey Robinson would spend much of their lives cutting demo records for enthusiastic jobbing local singers and writers. It’s too short to get its hooks into you, except that it doesn’t really have any hooks either, being somewhat flat and inoffensive; it’s a very pedestrian arrangement, hardly showing off the Rayber arranging service in its best light; it doesn’t sound as nice as the A-side, Wade on slightly ropey form, the backing vocals a little less harmonious, the band a little more bored. Everything – the song, the vocals, the performance, everything – just feels a bit stumbling, even clumsy.

Still, like the A-side, its Historical Value is through the roof, even if it was destined to be a footnote; for that, it’s worth hearing whatever its quality, and its quality is far from awful. In any case, the story, officially, hadn’t even started yet. With that, it’s over to you, Marv Johnson.



(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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Wade Jones
“I Can’t Concentrate”
Marv Johnson
“Come To Me”


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