Motown M 1005 (A), January 1961
And so we enter Year Three of the Motown empire. Year One had been all about getting a foothold; Year Two was about consolidation, making sure the company would survive. Year Three would see a marked ratecheting-up of the level of ambition, the expectations, and above all the sheer volume of releases.
(Just to illustrate this last point: the whole of Motown’s 1959 and 1960 output fits on the first two discs of The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1; 1961 and 1962 would take up four discs each, going up to five and then six discs per year by the company’s mid-Sixties heyday).
Year Three (or, er, 1961, as I suppose it’s better-known) began for Motown with this single by the excellently-named Henry Lumpkin. One of a number of forgotten early Motown male solo turns who never made the grade commercially (see the varyingly-talented likes of Gino Parks, Eugene Remus, Mickey Woods, Herman Griffin, André Williams, et seq.), Lumpkin deserves to be better-known than he is. Not only possessed of an excellent tenor voice, strong, gritty and full of character, which should have marked him out as a star in the making, he was also (like Mary Wells) a decent songwriter in his own right, penning his own singles both before and after his brief stay at Motown.
I’ve never seen a picture, but discussions of Lumpkin both on the Internet and in the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 universally refer to him by a number of artful euphemisms to avoid outright describing him as fat (“heavy-set”, “big-boned”, “more than a passing resemblance to Chubby Checker” and so on), so maybe he just didn’t have the physique for superstardom. Whatever the reason, it’s a shame, because on the evidence of this and his other Motown efforts, he had the goods.
Some have taken Brian Holland’s songwriting credit on Lumpkin’s début single as an indication of how strongly the company believed in young Henry’s prospects, signifying some kind of A-list treatment. In fact, this was only Holland’s third Motown songwriting credit, and neither of the previous two had been hits. In January 1961, Brian Holland was first and foremost a backing singer, and almost unknown as a songwriter or producer.
Written by Brian along with Satintone Robert Bateman, one of his usual pre-HDH songwriting partners (since Brian’s brother Eddie was still toiling away at a failed solo career as a singer on United Artists, and Lamont Dozier wouldn’t sign with Motown until 1962, while honing his craft in those early days Brian also wrote a lot with “singing mailman” Freddie Gorman and Hitsville receptionist Janie Bradford), as well as George Fowler, who would later be charged with looking after Motown’s gospel subsidiary Divinity, this one is pretty damned good.
(Good enough for Berry Gordy to revive the song for Marv Johnson on United Artists later in the year – see left.)
It grabs your attention right off the bat, starting out with a strange tempo change that takes a moment to get used to but makes sure the song stays in your memory. The weird slow tempo bit goes on to form the basis of the song’s chorus, while the rest of it is a peppy uptempo pop record, complete with Benny Benjamin’s starting-to-become-a-trademark brushed drums and plenty of very pretty melodic guitars. It’s not redolent of Holland’s later work with HDH in any real way, but it’s fun nonetheless.
(That said, there is a faintly rubbish bit right in the middle where, for no reason, the tune changes on the bridge and momentarily turns into a direct lift of the Shirelles’ hit from the previous year, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, which is… interesting, to say the least, given that Motown would be successfully sued later in 1961 over plaigiarism of that same hit record on the Satintones’ Tomorrow and Always, which I’ll talk about more when we get to that record).
Other than that minor blip, it’s a nice little song; once again, as with some of the other bluesier vocalists featured thus far, Lumpkin sounds like he wants to let rip with a full-on screaming delivery when things heat up a bit in the chorus, but he does admirably keeping it just on the right side of “too raucous” and turns in an excellent performance. You could easily picture this having made the pop Top 30 in 1961; instead, sadly, it sank without trace, and its performer joined the ever-growing ranks of Motown chart flop acts. Lumpkin, at least, would be given a further chance to prove himself.
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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“That’s Why I Love You So Much”
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