Just the twenty months and 36 (!) songs in, we finally come to the first female artist to get a Motown single release. Claudette Rogers of the Miracles and Berry Gordy’s wife Raynoma Liles Gordy, “Miss Ray”, had been featured doing backing vocals on Motown singles before, while on the other side of the glass Gordy’s sisters Anna and Gwen had both picked up writing credits, as had company receptionist Janie Bradford, but otherwise the company’s output up to this point had been decidedly XY.
The great Mable John, an early confidante of Berry Gordy when he was struggling to get songwriting work and who provides the touching opening essay for the first volume in the Complete Motown Singles box set series, was therefore the first Motown female solo act, beating out the better-known Mary Wells by a matter of weeks, and this engaging bluesy strut was her first professional recording as well as her début single.
Mable had been being coached by Gordy for years leading up to this single, and not surprisingly, the result is exceedingly confident; John’s voice is earthy and full of knowing swagger, and at various points she hits high, strong notes with verve. Despite being one of the least experienced vocalists in a stable with a very young average age to start with, it’s also a technically proficient performance, hitting her marks with dead-eye timing rightly applauded in the liner notes.
It’s not a brilliant song, but it’s likeable and listenable, and Mable’s voice is so refreshing after listening to so many samey male vocals, filling in a gap with something that had been sorely missing from the Motown blend up to this point. There is a slightly worrying bit where she sings about how her boyfriend likes to buy her fancy clothes, but there’s just the hint of another “mmm” consonant in her vocal, so that it sounds like she sings “He likes to see me un dressed”. But she doesn’t. So that’s alright, then.
Mable wasn’t the only member of her family to embark on a musical career; her brother “Little Willie” John had scored a national hit with Fever some years previously, a song later unmemorably “borrowed” by Berry Gordy for Eugene Remus’ Gotta Have Your Lovin’.
Later down the line, in 1963, when Motown was really getting into full swing, Mable would re-record her début, releasing a new (and somewhat inferior) version of Who Wouldn’t Love A Man Like That as her final Motown release. It still wasn’t a hit.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- Mable John (re-recording) (June 1963)
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