B-side of Poor Sam Jones
(Written by Robert Gordy)
Both sides of this spectacularly ill-conceived single release are pretty poor, but of the two, this takes the “worst in show” prize by also being cringeworthy.
The first Motown writing credit for Berry Gordy’s brother Robert, aka “Bob Kayli”, this is – rather unbelievably – a second weak “historical comedy” record about the Battle of the Little Bighorn, apparently a vein Gordy didn’t feel was tapped out yet following Popcorn Wylie’s baffling Custer’s Last Man. Oh, except this isn’t just a comedy record – it’s a comedy country record. Sweet Jesus.
So, in a strange and bewildering business decision, two songs which absolutely rely on a charismatic, believable lead vocal performance get assigned to Mickey Woods, Motown’s least charismatic lead vocalist to date. He kills them both stone dead, the A-side Poor Sam Jones with misplaced cardboard melodrama, and this B-side with a crushingly unfunny performance. Seriously, if you don’t want to jab knitting needles in your ears when we get to the (charitably-named) “chorus” and he jauntily announces “Sittin’ Bull and his Injuns / At the little bitty bitty Bighorn!”, you’re made of sturdier stuff than this listener.
Anyway, it’s a story about how Custer got all his men killed by telling them to wait until they saw the whites of the Native warriors’ eyes, only to be foiled because “all them big bad Injuns / have big red bloodshot eyes!” That’s it. That’s the punchline. A borderline racist joke at the end of a comedy song about a mass slaughter during a vicious war of racial extermination. Fantastic.
(It’s bleakly entertaining in one way, and just one: bitter irony. The company which the whole world would come to identify as synonymous with the smashing down of racial barriers, the shining, all-conquering jewel of racial integration in Sixties America, putting out a casually racist joke record. It’s now starting to dawn on me why, if Mickey Woods really was Motown’s first white solo vocalist, it’s not a landmark that’s been publicised more; it’s almost as if Motown worked hard to erase this jejune blip from their history.)
It’s difficult to argue this isn’t the worst record Motown had released to date. It’s certainly more musically proficient than the previous #1 contender, Eugene Remus’ genuinely dreadful Hold Me Tight (though that’s not difficult, given that the last time I passed gas was also more musically proficient than that particular 7″ train wreck), but the vocals and lyrics are so toe-curlingly bad that it’s almost as hard to listen to. It’s a tough call, and so I’ll just advise all right-thinking listeners to skip on past both of these crimes against popular music. This is utter, utter, utter crap, and best forgotten by all involved. Let’s move on.
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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“Poor Sam Jones”
|Richard Wylie & His Band
“Money (That’s What I Want)”