It’s a testament to Berry Gordy Jr’s knack for talent-spotting that of the first three Tamla singles, all three were by performers who went on to significant careers. Here we have the first record by teenage singer and pianist Barrett Strong, who would have the distinction of scoring Motown’s first big hit record with Money (That’s What I Want) a little further down the line, and who would then later on become one of Motown’s most valued songwriters in his role as lyricist with Norman Whitfield.
This energetic A-side, written by Gordy together with the songwriting team with whom he’d been responsible for a number of hits written for Jackie Wilson – including his big sister Gwen Gordy (Fuqua), who ran the Anna Records label, far more successful than Tamla at the time – is closer to Marv Johnson’s Come To Me than to its B-side and the two Eddie Holland sides previously featured. It’s a generic upbeat R&B stomper with strong doo-wop echoes, but featuring Strong’s much flatter, more guttural voice in place of Johnson’s fine tenor, and managing to somehow find the time in its two minutes’ duration to fit in a coruscating sax solo at the halfway mark. The most energetic Motown single up to that point, it has a liveliness not found in the previous four sides which makes up for the lack of imagination on show here. The sudden ending also takes the listener a little by surprise, as though it wasn’t actually supposed to end like that.
Unfortunately, the masters for many of the earliest Motown singles (including this one) weren’t retained for posterity, and so for those songs, the compilers of the superb The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 set had to rely on recordings taken from actual 45s; unlike the transfers taken of Eddie Holland’s first two Tamla sides, which sound pretty much fine apart from a little bit of distortion in the loud/high parts, the transfer of Let’s Rock is of considerably poorer quality; it sounds muffled and muddy, which is a shame and robs the song of a bit of its energy. Only a bit.
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.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in Barrett Strong? Click for more.)
“It Moves Me”
“Do The Very Best You Can”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.