B-side of Money (That’s What I Want)
No, this is very strange indeed. Here, Richard “Popcorn” Wylie, the hellraising, happy-go-lucky jazz pianist, the man who previously gave us a song about General Custer being possessed by Yogi Bear and advised us all to take some red ants and shake them in your pants, and who spent the entire A-side almost screaming and frothing at the mouth as he bashed seven bells out of his knackered piano, serves up his most unexpected curveball yet: a full-on, totally straight MOR romantic ballad.
Wylie gets to use his smooth, rich baritone to fine effect, all the more so because his previous three outings on vinyl had given no indication whatsoever that he could even sing like that, and it takes a few moments for the shock to wear off before the realisation sets in that the song is going to end up being a disappointingly bland number.
It starts so, so promisingly, though. Or, no, that’s not right, it doesn’t start promisingly at all. (Bear with me a moment, I need to explain this). It starts out with some subtle brushed drums which are quickly enveloped in a syrupy goo of MOR ballady backing music, complete with what sounds like a purposely-detuned tack piano plinking away in the worst cocktail-bar style, and you’re reaching for the stop button. But then, right, he starts singing, and he’s got a really good voice, and he croons – without the slightest hint of mockery or sham, like I said, totally straight, sounding completely sincere – “If your new love / Don’t turn out right…”
Then, out of nowhere, the most perfect female backing vocal refrain floats in over the top (and here, someone with a better ear for music could tell you what actual chords they are, but I can’t – all I can tell you is that they’re so beautiful, they are completely, utterly wasted on a song like this), and just then, just for a moment, everything seems to crystallise in time and space and you’re all but ready to fall head over heels in love with a throwaway B-side from a man whose previous best was an interminable comedy sketch devised solely to provide a series of weak feed-lines for quotes from contemporary pop hits. It is magical, and sets up the promise both of a beautitful record and an early precursor to the Four Tops’ Reach Out I’ll Be There in content and tone.
Sadly, the song can’t live up to the promise of those perfect few bars. The chorus is almost maddeningly conventional, a dreary MOR supper-club ballad, utterly predictable in almost every respect, which might, just might, be the most crushing thing in the entire Motown catalogue.
There are over three thousand songs to be covered on this blog, out of which hundreds of them have excellent ideas, and of those there are perhaps a dozen or so which have excellent ideas which aren’t built upon and are only glimpsed in tiny snatches, and of that dozen or so, it might just be that this one, with that bit, just that bit, could maybe be the worst missed opportunity of the whole lot.
“If your new love don’t turn out right…”
“…And your future don’t look too bright…”
Just that bit, right there. If they could have bottled that, if they could have made a whole song out of it, it would have been a classic.
It was a flash in the pan, and an exceedingly brief flash at that. The song was covered by Mary Wells for her second LP, The One Who Really Loves You, in 1962; her version unaccountably discarded the good bit. Wylie went back to light-hearted, throwaway blues and boogie-woogie for his third Motown single, Have I The Right, before eventually coming back over ten years later with a zany funk workout for his fourth, Funky Rubber Band, in 1971 (one of the longest gaps between releases in Motown history). But oh, Popcorn, what might have been, eh?
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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|Richard Wylie & His Band
“Money (That’s What I Want)”
“Tomorrow And Always”