b/w A New Girl
“Answer records”, eh? Usually an excuse for some talentless chancer to hitch a ride on the coat-tails of a current hit record, often faintly amusing on the first listen and then pointless thereafter, a trope that has produced very few classic records over the last sixty years. Answer records were also a mainstay of Motown in the early days; the most astonishingly egregious example, the Satintones’ Tomorrow And Always, landed Motown with a lawsuit, but there are plenty of other examples in those commercially-uncertain first few years.
This one is a bit more forgivable. It’s an answer record to one of Motown’s own hits, the Miracles’ Shop Around; the Miracles themselves had got their start years previously with début single Got A Job, an answer to the Silhouettes’ Get A Job, so now the wheel comes full circle. To drive the point home, it’s the actual Miracles themselves doing the backing vocals on this, which is essentially a note-for-note remake of Shop Around with new lyrics.
Slightly better lyrics, too, in fairness; the troubling touch of misogyny from the original is turned on its head here, as while Smokey’s mother advised him to shy away from commitment and play the field, Dean’s mother advises her not to let him try that tactic. It’s still not exactly enlightened – the onus is put on her to keep her man happy, rather than, for instance, him not being a total sleazebag. Initially, it’s unclear why Dean’s mum would even want her daughter to persevere with such an obvious tool in the first place, but there’s a funny twist at the end when Dean’s mother turns out to be dishing out this advice for rather baser reasons, noting Smokey’s character’s wealth and advising her daughter to turn gold digger and snare the financial prize of marrying money. Which is both quite amusing, and also makes both this and Shop Around absolutely fine by me; it was troubling if one half of the couple was deeply in love and the other was looking to trade her in for an upgrade, but if they’re both unpleasantly venal, then for me it somehow means they cancel each other out in a way that makes the whole thing less unpalatable. Odd, that.
A bit of trivia: this song was masterminded by Loucye Gordy Wakefield, boss of various Motown admin departments and beloved big sister to Berry Gordy. Loucye was the woman whose tragically early death in 1965 prompted Berry Gordy to commission a fitting memorial in the form of the stupendous 1968 multi-artist gospel compilation In Loving Memory, featuring two of the absolute best knockout Motown recordings, Marvin Gaye’s hair-raising His Eye Is On The Sparrow and Gladys Knight and the Pips’ incredible rendition of Just A Closer Walk With Thee.
A bit more trivia (and you’d think after 53 songs, the “momentous firsts” would be starting to die out a bit by now, but no): Debbie Dean was the first white artist to sign with Motown, and the first white female performer to appear on a Motown single. (Nick and the Jaguars, who had released the surf rock instrumental Ich-i-bon #1 in August 1959, were the first (credited) white performers on a Motown label, but theirs was a one-off deal for Tamla to release that one pre-recorded single, rather than them actually signing a contract with Berry Gordy.)
Debbie Dean was a fine singer, but she was already in her early thirties and rather too old to be a teenybopper idol; the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 make the compelling case that signing an older, white female singer showed Gordy was getting serious about his MOR pop crossover ambitions to pick up a middle-class white audience. While Gordy put out a number of sides of genuinely dreadful MOR schlock in the Sixties in the misplaced hope of getting those white sitting-room audiences to lap it up, his ambition for Motown to cross racial and class lines and pretty much end up conquering the world was fulfilled, albeit not in the way he envisioned. Maybe this is an interesting place to pinpoint the start of that trend.
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!)
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“A New Girl”