B-side of Don’t Let Him Shop Around
Really rather lovely; a slowie, but a break from the barely-modified standard doo-wop structures that had been used on almost every Motown slowie to date – this is an early Sixties pop record all the way. A real breath of fresh air, it has Smokey Robinson’s fingerprints all over it, and he and his lilting falsetto might have made a good fist of this, but instead he hands the song to Reba Smith, who recorded for Motown under the name “Debbie Dean”, and who it turns out is simply perfect for it.
The song is immediately compelling; over a textured backing of instantly-recognisable melodic Funk Brothers guitar, bass and brushed drums, and a remarkable male/female bass/soprano backing vocal buried in the background, Dean pleads tearfully with her boyfriend (possibly, possibly, the same boy addressed in Don’t Let Him Shop Around) not to dump her for someone else, and warns him that the grass isn’t always greener and that he might end up getting a taste of his own medicine when the eponymous New Girl trades him in for a better model. It’s a shopworn cliché for a song, but Dean handles it exactly right, bringing just the correct amount of knowing worldliness and experience to the story which might have rung hollow had it been sung by one of Motown’s fresh-out-of (or, indeed, still-in) -high-school female vocalists.
At 33, Dean was already something of a seasoned veteran compared to most of her teenage labelmates; she’d released a number of singles under various pseudonyms (Debbie Stevens, Penny Smith), as well as recording a single written by Berry Gordy and Roquel Davis, Give Me What You Got, as “Penny & The Eko’s” on Chess-distributed Argo Records #5295. (Argo had also released the dreadful It by “Ron & Bill”, aka Ronnie White and Smokey Robinson. The early Motown family tree is a tangled web; nobody who had a record out in Detroit seems to have been more than two degrees of separation from anyone else.)
Her age, her race and her background (like Jimmy Ruffin, she came to Detroit from the South, in her case Kentucky) may have separated Debbie Dean from many of the young local black acts being signed by Motown at the time, but both sides of her début Motown single fit the pattern of exactly where Berry Gordy wanted his expanding label to be heading.
This song is an unheralded Smokey Robinson gem, one of his best early “commissions” for another Motown act; the A-side had been a marginally-altered cover of the Miracles’ Shop Around, which wasn’t one of his best early compositions but which was important in establishing Smokey as one of Motown’s premier acts, in terms of both sales and chart profile. A New Girl is good enough to make you wonder: if Gordy had handed control of Dean’s career to Smokey, as he was to shortly do with Mary Wells (with stellar results on the charts), what might have happened? Might we now be toasting the brilliance of early Motown star Debbie Dean?
Instead, Dean’s career went pretty much nowhere after this. She recorded two more Motown singles, then drifted away for a while before returning to Motown under the wing of her friend Deke Richards to record the excellent Northern stomper Why Am I Lovin’ You for VIP in 1968.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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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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“Don’t Let Him Shop Around”
“Ain’t It Baby”