B-side of Whirlwind
An interesting one, this. Starting out with a jarring, discordant piano “riff” – the same note being struck over and over – we then get a few bars of pure Funk Brothers backing track, and in a surprising development there are definite echoes of what was to come to be defined as the Motown Sound: there are brushed drums played in tandem with crotchet “chinks” of high electric guitar on the second beat, along with the imposing, independent bass line and soft, harmonising pre-Andantes female backing vocals during the verses.
The start of the “Motown Sound” is traditionally dated to 1963 and the Vandellas’ Come And Get These Memories, but the band had it in them all along, as evidenced by this throwaway B-side performed the best part of two and a half years earlier.
It’s not all futuristic, before anyone gets too excited. The Funk Brothers’ playing isn’t as confident as it would become; James Jamerson’s technique is already starting to show, but his creativity is seemingly hampered by the upright bass he was still using pending the 1962 acquisition of his trademark Fender Precision. Worse, there’s a fiddly, hesitant (and slightly botched) guitar solo right in the middle at 1:40, instantly dating the record to before the glory days of Hitsville when such a thing would never have been allowed to fly. Still, the building blocks are definitely there, enough to make this an interesting historical footnote.
The song itself isn’t bad either. Barrett Strong (who gives another decent vocal performance, this time showing off a previously-unused falsetto) adds some self-deprecating humour to the story, rattling off a list of increasingly improbable things he could do which show how brave and tough he is (offering to kill lions, fight bears, tigers and sharks, get in the ring with Floyd Patterson and so on, as well as boasting “When trouble comes I never hide… I used to beat up the cops just for fun”), before the comic payoff that if his girl leaves him he’ll collapse in tears.
The delivery makes it work, along with that Historically Significant backing track, which on reflection may simply have been an experiment, one of many playing styles the Funk Brothers tried out in the early years; it would take a lot more sessions before the band got in the habit of doing this as a matter of course.
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5 / 10
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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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“Bye Bye Baby”