Tamla T 54034 (B), September/October 1960 (3 pressings)
B-side of Shop Around
(Written by Smokey Robinson)
B-side of Shop Around
(Released in the UK under license through London Records)
Smokey’s second Motown solo songwriter credit, after the magnificent Way Over There, this slight B-side (originally the opening track of the Miracles’ début album, Hi! We’re the Miracles) was apparently held in such high regard at the time that Motown were supposedly keen to promote it over the A-side – that’s the A-side Shop Around, which went on to become the first million-selling Motown single.
They weren’t alone; this is often cited as one of Smokey’s best, especially among his early successes. The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 are almost breathless in their exaltation of this song (“a spine-chiller… a surefire winner… one of the greatest B-sides… a seminal ballad”), and such praise is hardly the exception – every review of this I’ve ever read has lauded it as a hidden gem, a criminally-ignored masterpiece.
I have to say, I really, really don’t see it. It’s a nice enough song, a slow, chugging doo-wop ballad with a heavy blues influence, but there’s just so little to it I can’t hear what everyone else seems to be hearing.
There’s almost no tune to be had, and whilst it floats along quite pleasantly while it’s actually playing, it fails the “could I sing this back to you right now” test. (Because I couldn’t. Surprisingly for a Miracles number, I find myself struggling to remember anything about this at all, other than the intro and the outro.)
The lyrics are utterly forgettable, to the point that I still couldn’t confidently tell you what it’s meant to be about (Smokey’s narrator pining over his ex, I think? I found my attention drifting every time I tried to pin it down.)
Smokey gives a throaty, edgy performance, which is an interesting choice, but in fact he ends up going so raw-throated as to actually slip out of key on a couple of occasions (you can totally hear early-period John Lennon in his vocal here, but not so much Smokey Robinson, if that makes sense). It also features a genuinely laughable ending, where Claudette gets a completely unnecessary vocal solo line to sing “Who’s loving you?” over Smokey’s closing note – which was clearly intended to get a rise out of a live crowd but which fails miserably on record.
Unintentionally funny ending aside, I find the record pleasant but unremarkable. Nothing particularly special to these ears, but hey, your mileage may vary.
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!)
Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
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