b/w Oh I Apologize
b/w Oh I Apologize
(Released in the UK under license through London Records)
Motown had put out seven singles prior to this one, some of them featuring some pretty good songs, but this is the first bona fide classic to come out of the Hitsville factory. Even now, fifty years – can you believe it, fifty years – later, it still sounds fantastic. It was also Motown’s first national hit, and deservedly so.
Built around Berry Gordy’s hypnotic piano riff – played on the record by Strong himself – and featuring an unexpectedly essential tambourine part from Brian Holland alongside the first truly great Benny Benjamin drums performance, deafening warlike tom-toms beaten with genuine malice, the whole thing is just an unstoppable, nasty, mean, sexy groove. Everything on the record just demands attention – the raw-throated, almost-shouted vocals, the thundering bass, the spiky, twanging guitars, everything. And somehow it all works.
Motown’s only previous chart contender, Marv Johnson’s Come To Me, had been a surprise hit; this one couldn’t fail to be a hit. The difference in confidence between this and the previous sides, especially Strong’s own Let’s Rock, is palpable. Whether that confidence was borne of knowing they were onto something good, or whether everybody just fed off each other’s energy and moved everything up a gear, it blazes right through the speakers – everyone here is on top form, and this is the best Motown single to date, by the longest of long chalks.
Some of the previous Motown sides featured on this blog you might want to play again straight away – Eddie Holland’s It Moves Me, and Marv Johnson’s lovely Whisper, the Funk Brothers (or “Swinging Tigers”) pounding away on Snake Walk – but this is the first one to actually make you say yes, that’s fantastic, play that one again, and again, and again. It’s the first one that’s actually essential.
Strong is no great shakes as a vocalist, for sure, but he gets the job done here with a clear, tough delivery. You’d expect the song to suffer from overfamiliarity, but it doesn’t; further, this is an example of the original being the definitive version of a song, regardless of how many covers have had a go at replicating it. It’s jagged, even sloppy in places, but that’s really the point. It’s raw. It’s young. It’s mean. It’s alive. It kicks arse, quite frankly. And for the very first time, Motown release a record that matters.
More than the much-needed financial fillip provided by the healthy sales of this record (which hit #2 R&B once it had been licensed to Berry’s big sister Gwen Gordy Fuqua’s label Anna Records, who had better national distribution), Money also proved to everyone involved that it was worth persevering, that maybe, just maybe, this tiny black indie label was worth watching, worth sticking with, worth getting involved with, worth being part of. For that reason, Money is probably the most important record in the whole Motown canon. Regardless of the good stuff that had come before, in many ways the Motown story really begins right here, with one of the better pop records of the 1950s.
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!)
Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- Richard (Popcorn) Wylie & His Band (April 1961)
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“Oh I Apologize”