(Written by Smokey Robinson)
RE-ISSUE (2 pressings)
Into 1960 we go. One year in, and already Motown had released some great records, as well as a couple of real stinkers. The stage was set, at least in part; the task for Year Two of Berry Gordy’s ambitious project was to surpass what had been achieved in Year One and start having some serious hits. This brilliant single was a clear statement of intent.
The first new Motown release of the new year saw Smokey Robinson’s first solo writing credit on the A-side, as the Miracles settled into their role as one of the most important groups on the label and Smokey started to flex his songwriting muscles as he moved into his twenties.
Despite not being as famous as some of Smokey’s better-known later hit singles, Way Over There is one of his best, right out of the top drawer. Supposedly, the song was inspired by the Isley Brothers’ Shout, though this inspiration is more apparent in the use of a major/minor chord progression at a quick pace than any similarity in tune.
This is more upbeat and uptempo than the previous Miracles singles, Smokey attacking the vocal with considerably more brio and raw throatiness than his customary smooth singing style, the Miracles giving it their all on the backing vocals, and exciting new ingredients like handclaps and electric guitar providing a heady mix.
Starting out with an unusual Oriental piano riff, this is a great pop song all the way, the theme of the narrator being unstoppable as he overcomes all obstacles to rejoin his love matched by the giddy enthusiasm of the verses and a soaring, optimistic chorus. That chorus is one of early Smokey’s best, and Robinson absolutely *nails* it, hitting the very top of his range when he sings “I’m on my way-YYY”… great stuff.
Like the Satintones’ excellent My Beloved and Eugene Remus’ rather less excellent You Never Miss A Good Thing, Berry Gordy had the Miracles re-record Way Over There with a string section and then re-pressed the single with the new recording, meaning there are two competing versions with the same catalogue number.
(Annoyingly, this single also has the same catalogue number as the Miracles’ previous hastily-withdrawn Tamla single, The Feeling Is So Fine.)
Anyway, they’re both exceptionally good; the “strings” version sounds a bit fuller, more well-rounded, but I’m not convinced that Smokey’s vocal on the sparse, piano-led first version isn’t the better take, and the curtain of backing harmonies and prominent rhythm guitar part on the first version directly presages the Beatles’ Please Please Me LP a couple of years later (the Beatles, of course, being big fans of the Miracles’ work). In the debit column, the first version’s piano work has a few noticeable mistakes in it, whereas the second version is played almost flawlessly. Once again, you pays yer money and you takes yer choice.
This wasn’t the last time Gordy would pull this trick; Motown would continue to release different “second pressing” versions of a few singles over the next couple of years, a boon for collectors but a loss for those who crave a “definitive” version of a given single, if only to compare alternate versions against.
Adding to the overall confusion, the flip of the single was a re-recording of the earlier B-side (You Can) Depend On Me, which is covered in more detail on the next page.
As if enough confusion hadn’t already been caused for collectors, the second pressing was then reissued two and a half years later, with a new catalogue number and a brand-new B-side, If Your Mother Only Knew, using the new Tamla “globes” label stock.
The motives for doing so aren’t entirely clear – perhaps Motown simply felt the song hadn’t achieved its full potential the first time around, and that they could do more with it now they were in a stronger financial position with more marketing muscle. If so, they might have been a little disappointed – this reissued version of the single was marginally more successful than the original, just cracking the pop Top 100 at number 94.
Even more confusingly, the re-issued single itself went through two separate pressings, each featuring a different recording of the B-side If Your Mother Only Knew. Mercifully, the same version of Way Over There is featured on both pressings of the re-issue.
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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“Gotta Have Your Lovin’ “
“(You Can) Depend On Me” (2nd version)