b/w Who’s Lovin’ You
b/w Who’s Lovin’ You
(Released in the UK under license through London Records)
The Miracles’ first hit record, and Motown’s first million selling single – but only after two little-heard original versions were pulled after a couple of weeks of release, and replaced with a brand new third re-recording instead.
The first pressing is the shortest and shakiest of the three; it sounds sloppy and half-finished, with slightly mistimed drums and guitars (including a scary bit in the middle, with a very loud electric guitar riff at 1:16 and a shaky bit immediately thereafter where the Miracles seem to come in two bars early, coming worryingly close to having the whole thing collapse around them) and somewhat ropey backing vocals. Rare as hen’s teeth, this first version was very quickly withdrawn in favour of a better second take.
That second pressing, erroneously listed in The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 as the original version (a mistake later corrected in the magnificent Depend On Me: The Early Albums box set) is still slower and rougher than the well-known version which went on to become such a hit; nonetheless, it was still the Miracles’ most uptempo single so far, a little quicker and more urgent than The Feeling Is So Fine.
The second version is dominated by a prominent tambourine beaten to within an inch of its life, as well as a growling sax buried in the mix which pops up for a jagged-edged solo at 1:35 before receding back into the shadows. It’s a more blues-influenced arrangement which has Smokey well out of his comfort zone, giving a sore-throated delivery and almost squealing the top notes.
The song itself is okay, but the sentiment – the narrator’s mother advising him not to commit himself to a relationship in case there’s a better girl out there for him – is hard to admire, and it sounds slightly incongruous coming from Smokey knowing he would go on to be a master craftsman of romantic pop records.
On original release in September 1960, the song stumbled to a few local-market sales, but it wasn’t headed anywhere special before co-writer and producer Berry Gordy had a brainwave while lying in bed one night a couple of weeks later. (Lest it be forgotten, Gordy was a great songwriter with an almost supernatural knack for picking hits.)
That night, while trying to sleep, Gordy was going over some ideas for songs in his head, when inspiration suddenly struck as to what should have been done with Shop Around. Excited, and afraid to wait until morning in case he lost the idea again, he got Smokey on the phone and demanded he get out of bed and round up the Miracles; by three o’clock that morning, Gordy and the group were in the studio, working on a new, faster, tighter version of Shop Around which would go on to sell over a million copies.
This third version, which later featured on the first Miracles album Hi, We’re The Miracles in June 1961, is undeniably the best of the three versions. Unlike previous Motown re-recordings which had produced ambiguous results, the new Shop Around is twice the record its predecessors were.
Taken at a faster lick, with the Funk Brothers on better form – more intricate basswork, some great brushed drums instead of that violent tambourine – and featuring a smoother, more accomplished, more radio-friendly sax solo in place of the second version’s squealing blues interlude, it could hardly fail. Smokey gives the song a more confident, more controlled pop lead vocal delivery, which suits the tune markedly better than the raw-throated attack he employed on the original take. Motown’s first number one hit (on the R&B chart, also hitting number 2 on the pop chart), it’s a hit single all the way.
It’s also (whisper it) still not as good as some of their previous singles – Bad Girl and especially Way Over There are better than this one, all told – but it’s great fun nonetheless, quite aside from it being Historically Significant both for the Miracles and in the grand scheme of the Motown story.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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|Singin’ Sammy Ward
“Who’s The Fool”
“Who’s Lovin’ You”