Tamla T 54029 (A), July 1960
Motown issued almost no new singles in the first half of 1960; the few releases that there were were mostly re-issues of older seven-inches in new versions re-recorded with a string section (see the Satintones’ My Beloved, Eugene Remus’ You Never Miss A Good Thing and the Miracles’ Way Over There). This was the first “new” 45 the company had released in almost four months.
It was also the first time that Motown got to follow up a hit single: this was Barrett Strong’s much-anticipated follow-up to Money (That’s What I Want). It was a chance they’d been denied previously; Marv Johnson’s top 10 R&B hit Come To Me and its follow-ups, and any resultant glory, had been handled by United Artists. Even now, the honour was to be shared with Berry Gordy’s big sister Gwen, whose Anna Records – at the time a bigger label with far better national distribution – had licensed Money from Motown; it was the Anna version which had scaled the charts, and so Anna licensed this record too, hoping for lightning to strike twice. Still, this was a Tamla record released by Anna under license, rather than something commissioned and paid for by the bigger label, meaning Berry Gordy retained control of the project.
In future years, Motown would come to develop house rules of thumb for such situations; if a record was a hit, the follow-up had to be reasonably similar, and the same writer/producer team would be given first dibs on doing the sequel. Those rules weren’t in place yet, this being an unprecedented turn of events, but after this record turned out to be a complete commercial flop (regardless of what label it was released on), it may have played a part in the development of official Motown sequel policy.
Because Yes, No, Maybe So sounds nothing like Money at all. It’s an uptempo pop/R&B number with more than a hint of Ray Charles, which opens with a piercing jazz trumpet and is kept going with a frantic, almost boogie-woogie piano and a finger-clicking backing. Even Strong sounds nothing like he did on Money, his growling sneer on that record replaced here by a fierce, throaty soul delivery, one that (again) shows he’d been listening to a lot of Ray Charles records.
It’s a fun little song, and the chorus is catchy (though I struggle not to think of Lord Rockingham XI’s Hoots Mon at the same time), but as a follow-up to a classic hit single it fails to hit the mark. Also, the production is weak and muddy, and the sound quality is especially poor.
Anyway, the single stiffed, not only failing to follow its predecessor to the top, but actually missing the charts altogether. (Indeed, hits are rationed sparingly on the first couple of Complete Motown Singles box sets; to this point, of the 30 songs reviewed on Motown Junkies, only two of them had seen action on any chart at all).
He wasn’t to know it, but Barrett Strong had already had his first and last hit record as a performer. Undaunted, he would go on to record another three (equally unsuccessful) singles for the company, before disappearing from view for a few years, and then finally taking up a position in partnership with Norman Whitfield as one of Motown’s great songwriting teams.
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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“(You Can) Depend On Me” (2nd version)
“You Knows What To Do”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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