(Released in the UK under license through London Records)
The Miracles’ first single since their million-selling breakthrough Shop Around, this was an R&B Top 20 and pop Top 50 single, but both band and label had hoped for more.
The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 are replete with commentary about how the problem with this single was that it didn’t follow Shop Around closely enough to benefit from its success, that it sounded too different, that Smokey wanted to show diversity by delivering something new, etc. Which is all a bit weird, because Ain’t It Baby sounds almost exactly the same as Shop Around, a dancefloor-minded pop rocker recorded in the same tempo, with the backing musicians (some Chicago session men, not the Funk Brothers) following an almost note-for-note arrangement, using the same metre in the lyrics and with Smokey’s vocal performed in the same under-used raw style. Seriously, you can easily switch back and forth between this and Shop Around while singing.
No, the problem with Ain’t It Baby isn’t that it’s too radical, too fresh, too different from Shop Around; the problem is that it’s quite simply not as good. Where the chorus to Shop Around was a hook that grabbed the audience, the chorus to Ain’t It Baby is so thin and forgettable as to be almost non-existent; where Shop Around had an easily-discerned central concept that listeners could latch on to quickly, I’m hard-pressed to tell you what Ain’t It Baby is actually about.
(Smokey’s narrator spends the entire song dissing some woman who has had the temerity to say she loves him, but he evidently hates her so much it seems impossible they’re already in a relationship, and yet in the third verse it turns out they are together despite the fact it means he’s miserable and thinks she’s evil.)
The Miracles’ singles had been getting progressively less good with each single since Way Over There, to the point where this sounds like a B-side cut by some forgettable act, not a follow-up to a smash hit single by Motown’s flagship group.
A worrying trend; sales figures aside, if I’d been writing this review in 1961 then (apart from being astonished by the computer, etc etc) I’d have been starting to entertain serious doubts about how many more good songs Smokey had up his sleeve after all. Luckily, they’d go on to erase any such doubts before too long, but this single really isn’t very impressive.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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