William “Smokey” Robinson and the Miracles were an integral part of Motown’s success, from beginning to end; Smokey was a vice-president of the company, a crucial palette-mixer and sounding-board for Berry Gordy the songwriter, a key producer in the Hitsville stable, and also a superb singer and songwriter in his own right who fronted a brilliant group and ended up with so many classic hits that nobody could gather enough sticks to shake at them.
Ironic, then, that the first Smokey Robinson record released on Motown was this ridiculous load of stupid shit. That’s right; Robinson, credited here as “Bill” (hopefully to avoid being linked forever more with such a duff song – “Ron” was Miracle Ronnie White, presumably equally embarrassed), made his Motown performing bow with this fuck-awful novelty record about a funny little alien. Apparently this was meant to be a rip-off of Sheb Wooley’s then-recent, almost equally awful hit Purple People Eater, recorded in the hope of picking up a few sales off the back of that record’s success.
(This was something Motown did quite a few times in the early years, before it had any faith in the skill of its own songwriters and performers to break hits on their own – indeed, even after having a few hit records, Motown kept on churning out homages, “answer records” and plain rip-offs, even of its own material.)
A fair enough plan, I suppose, except that it somehow manages to be even less good than Purple People Eater. I mean, at least that had an easily-sung chorus, whereas this… well, this is just embarrassing. It’s actually slightly too intelligent for its own good, not quite dumb enough to go for the mass market with proper abandon, and so it just ends up crashing between two stools and breaking its legs in a ghastly accident. No, really, it’s rubbish. The “chorus” is just a hard-to-sing string of “oh oh oh oh oh”s that sound like the Everly Brothers warming up before a show, the lyrics are childish, the story goes nowhere, and Smokey sounds entirely unenthused throughout.
The lesson to be learned was that Purple People Eater was a stupid, catchy novelty singalong song about an alien, and it became a hit single. It was a stupid novelty song about an alien, but it wasn’t catchy and you couldn’t sing along to it, and it didn’t become a hit single. In fact, it disappeared without trace, even though no less a power than Chess Records had picked it up for national distribution.
Quite comfortably the worst of the six Motown singles released thus far (though it would be challenged handily for its crown of badness by some later stinkers), this is a blot on the copybook of everyone concerned. Obviously, this is one of the songs that didn’t have its master tape lost or destroyed prior to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 being compiled, so you can today enjoy this load of utter arse in lovely CD clarity. Great.
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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|The Swinging Tigers
“Snake Walk (Part 2)”
|Ron & Bill
“Don’t Say Bye Bye”