(Written by Berry Gordy)
Berry Gordy’s greatest gift in Motown’s difficult, cash-strapped, formative years was his knack for successfully playing a hunch. Here, according to the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1, apparently Gordy had a hunch that Motown needed a slice of the white teen pop action, hence the appearance of this record. I say “apparently” because this is not teen pop, it is depressing anguished teen bedsit emo music from fifty years ago.
As a songwriter, Gordy was a pretty versatile guy; certainly you would never have tabbed the writer of this dirgey, overwrought lament as the same bloke who co-wrote, say, Yes, No, Maybe So. Slow, soft brushes, deliberately off-key guitars, backing vocals that wail mournfully, and a lead vocal which tries its best to conjure up the listener’s deepest sympathy for a character that doesn’t even make any sense, ending up as histrionic aural wallpaper.
It’s the story of a man, the eponymous Sam Jones, who left “three crying children and a nagging wife” to go off and make some money, but only ended up with… loads of money. No, but it’s sad, because he also got grey hair, and his kids grew up, which made him feel sad about getting old. And rich.
Still not in tears? Well, how about this, then? “Well now, he’s got money, and he’s got friends / But none will stick to the bitter, bitter end / With all his money, and all that he owns / Poor Sam Jones will die alone.”
Seems rather harsh to me.
It’s a thin, boring song, made almost laughable by Woods’ ridiculously overblown vocal, orated as though he were recounting a Greek tragedy or something, let down by his wetter-than-wet voice. Presumably it’s meant to pack some sort of emotional punch, but it’s all surface and no feeling, it means literally nothing, and so the only thing it actually conveys is the sort of vacuous pomposity that the fourteen-year-old girls of 1961 might have mistaken for deep and troubled. (They didn’t.) It’s not even remotely pop, it’s certainly not fun, and you won’t be surprised to know it met a fitting end commercially, sinking without a trace.
The Internet doesn’t know anything about Mickey Woods; history has seemingly pretty much forgotten him. If he was white (and he sounds it), he’d be the first white male solo Motown vocalist, but it’s not a landmark worth celebrating.
Really not very good at all. The B-side is even worse. Brace yourselves.
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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|The Gospel Stars
“Behold The Saints Of God”
“They Rode Through The Valley”