B-side of I’ve Got A Notion
One of the great joys of doing this blog, even this early (and on that note: happy 50th post, me), has been the chance to reappraise and re-enjoy stuff which might have been given slightly short shrift before. The Complete Motown Singles is almost an overload of great music – the temptation is to just dive in and listen to the whole thing, reliving the classics, reviling the “classics”, remembering the overlooked, discovering stuff you never heard or stuff you never knew existed. Which is a lot of fun to start with, but there’s only so much great music you can listen to before sensory overload kicks in and you realise you need to take a break in order to digest what you’ve listened to instead of cramming more new stuff in (and because you’ve lost the capacity to distinguish between two records you listened to five minutes ago, never mind remembering what (for argument’s sake) a Henry Lumpkin B-side sounded like.) But listening to these records over and over again, even these early proto-Motown ones, in order to write about them has been really enjoyable.
Today, I’ve mostly been listening to I’ve Got A Notion, the first Motown single by Henry Lumpkin (hereafter known as “the excellently-named Henry Lumpkin”). I’d forgotten what a good song it was, and I’d forgotten how the B-side even went.
Sadly, it’s one of the records for which an original master couldn’t be found for The Complete Motown Singles, Volume 1 and which had to be painstakingly dubbed from an original 45rpm single. I mention this far earlier than I normally would, because it’s more immediately obvious here than on other records subject to the same limitations – perhaps most obvious, in fact.
It’s obvious because We Really Love Each Other opens with a strummed slow crescendo wave of chiming, spangly guitars, loud guitars which almost disappear in the fuzz of distortion they create. They quickly settle into a lush pattern of guitars, bass and brushes, working in classic 4/4 doo-wop tempo but fitting together in harmony to create a wall of sound quite different to anything Phil Spector ever imagined. A beautiful ballad opens up, sung quite beautifully by Lumpkin, together with that perfect band track and a gorgeous female harmony “ooh-oh-ooh” that ranks high in the overall list of Great Motown Backing Vocals; it sounds like the greatest slowie jukebox hit of 1957, arriving four years too late.
The production is absolutely drenched in echo, meaning the modern listener can only guess at what this might have sounded like if it was taken from a cleaned-up remaster. As it is, the overall fuzziness adds to the dreamy atmosphere, and some of it might be intentional, but it’s hard to tell how much, and equally hard not to wish it all sounded a bit clearer.
(Oddly, the A-side I’ve Got A Notion also suffered the same fate, but that one sounds positively pristine by comparison – I only looked it up because the B-side is so obviously a 7″ vinyl rip that I wondered whether only the A-side had been considered worthy of preservation in the “if in doubt, throw it out (or tape over it, or lose it, or just file it in the wrong place)” early days of the Motown archives. If the two recordings on The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 really are from the same physical copy of the record, I can only presume it was stored in someone’s collection with the A-side lovingly preserved in an airtight cotton-wool sheath and the B-side rubbing up against The Return of the Durutti Column or something.)
Anyway, Lumpkin’s delivery is perfect (he’s accompanied throughout the song, so closely that he’s almost double-tracked, by a quieter background voice that the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 point out sounds suspiciously like co-writer Smokey Robinson), and once again this could conceivably have been a pop hit; soppy and gentle enough for middle-class white audiences to accept, but carried through by the singer’s conviction. Sometimes true love is soppy and gentle, or makes you act soppy and gentle at the very least. I believe him.
The sighing female “mmmmmmm” in the middle is faintly incongruous, but a clever touch to add a little something to the song (echoes of the Four Tops’ brilliant 1970 single Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life), and its similarly-overlaid “making a phonecall” sound effects).
Neither this song nor the A-side went on to do anything at all in the charts, but Lumpkin was so clearly One To Watch that like other excellent male vocalists who started their Motown careers with early-Sixties commercial flops – a club which would also include Marvin Gaye and Jimmy Ruffin – he didn’t find himself summarily dropped, instead being given further chances and going on to record two more singles with Motown. None of them, though, are quite this good.
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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“I’ve Got A Notion”
“Don’t Feel Sorry For Me”