(Written by Smokey Robinson, Billy Gordon and Billy Hoggs)
Early 1961, and the future Motown hitmakers are starting to come together now. This is the first appearance of the Contours, best known nowadays for cutting early Motown smash hit Do You Love Me a year later.
A self-admitted bunch of chancers who’d become more famous for their acrobatic stage shows, filled with slides, splits and somersaults on stage, than their records, the Contours’ stock in trade was not exactly comedy records per se, but a sort of lighthearted, rough-edged pop aimed squarely at the dancefloor.
They were exactly what Motown needed in those formative years, even if Berry Gordy had initially been cool on the idea of signing them; ultimately it wasn’t their considerable dancing and singing talents that got them signed, but rather the fact that one of them was related to Gordy’s pal Jackie Wilson. By the time their seven-year (!) Motown contract ended, they’d have been through a complete line-up change, their final Motown release featuring none of the Contours who appeared on the first version of this record.
I say “first version”, because as was pretty much standard Motown practice in the early days, this one comes in two flavours, both unhepfully issued with the same catalogue number: there’s the raw, almost out-of-control regionally-released original, and then a slicker, but sadly more conventional, second pressing, a re-recorded version with the original’s excesses smoothed out and toned down for national distribution. Me, I much prefer the rough and ready unsanded edges of the crazed first version; the second pressing sounds watered-down by comparison. Which isn’t to say it’s not still one of the roughest and toughest of all Motown singles.
Personnel nerds note: the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 have a quote from Billy Gordon which reveals that Sylvester Potts replaced Leroy Fair (who was booted from the group for not being able to dance to the level of the other Contours) in between the two recordings being made.
Anyway, the song. It’s very good, the roughest, rockingest thing Motown had released since Barrett Strong’s smash hit Money (That’s What I Want); co-written by two of the group and polished by Smokey Robinson, it’s a riveting, pounding number, featuring gutsy sax, barrelling piano and a tambourine being smashed to within an inch of its life, while (especially on the original version) Billy Gordon’s superb, screamed lead vocal could strip paint from the walls. When he delivers the title of the song, with unprecedented violence, it makes your own throat hurt in sympathy for his battered larynx.
The real hook here, though, is the song’s unexpected use of repeated lines in unusual places – firstly a verse being lengthened, presaging a later bridge, with “it’s you I care-for / it’s you I a-dore“, and then a bit later on a simply brilliant bit where you think we’re heading into the lead-in to the chorus, but no, instead Gordon sings “so you could be beside me / to lead me and guide me / to lead me and guide me”… the effect is quite astounding. It’s an effect that’s lessened in the smoother second version, but still surprising.
This did nothing at all on the charts, but it’s great nonetheless. They’d go on to justify Motown’s faith (and that seven year deal) by scoring one of the fledgling company’s biggest early hits just over a year later, so this one’s failure isn’t so bad, but it deserved better. Perhaps it was just too raw, too unpolished, to make a dent in the genteel atmosphere of the charts of 1961. Who knows? Good stuff, though.
Apparently the first version is one of those records for which an original master couldn’t be found for The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1, meaning the copy of the first version found there had to be dubbed from a 7″ 45rpm single; unlike some other recordings in the box, with this one you really can’t tell. Bravo, mastering people!
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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|Little Iva & Her Band
“Come On And Be Mine”