(Written by Berry Gordy)
Amid the debacle of the Satintones’ Tomorrow and Always, an outright lift of the Shirelles’ Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? which resulted in Motown being sued for breach of copyright, Motown briefly issued another unashamed soundalike which flouted its “inspiration” and barely bothered to cover its tracks; the victim this time is the Coasters’ wacky Yakety Yak, a hit from almost three years previously. It’s not great. It’s also yet another single which failed to chart; the spring of 1961 was Motown’s worst stretch, creatively and commercially, for at least nine years.
Geno Purifoy, a charismatic Southern R&B singer who recorded under the name “Gino Parks” because of an incident at a TV studio early in his career when some lackwit racist security guards refused him entry because his name apparently didn’t sound sufficiently African-American, could have gone on to great things at Motown. Geno’s later singles for the company showcase his raspy, high baritone/low soprano voice, blessed with good range and yelping bursts of surprising volume and energy; shades of James Brown.
On arrival at Hitsville, however, Geno’s career almost stalled before take-off. Signed at roughly the same time as his musical partner André Williams, the duo were separated and sent on different paths. Williams would cut a forgettable single with Motown – Rosa Lee (Stay Off The Bell) – before settling into a behind-the-glass role, becoming one of the company’s more reliable songwriters and producers in the first half of the Sixties. Motown had less of an idea what to do with Geno, and as a result of this indecision, he was eventually dispatched to the low-profile Miracle label and found himself teamed up with two other misfits, Satintone Robert Bateman and the excellently-named Henry Lumpkin, to form a new trio, “Hank, Gino & Bob”, who someone apparently hoped would become Motown’s answer to the Coasters.
(As the Satintones had inadvertently proved with Tomorrow and Always, also featuring Bateman, there’s a thin line between “answer” and “soundalike rip-off”. This one comes very, very close to the latter, and perhaps its sailing so close to the wind right in the middle of a legal shitstorm was the reason for it apparently being hastily withdrawn. Indeed, several good sources say this single never actually came out at all, but The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 says a few copies made it to market and I’m going with them.)
For reasons unknown, the “trio” plan was junked prior to this single’s release, and instead the record ended up credited as a Gino Parks solo effort, even though Parks actually spends most of the song singing in tandem with Lumpkin, and the most memorable line – the deep bass I’ve got them blibberin’ blabbin’ blues!, the counterpart to the Coasters’ don’t talk back – is handled by Bateman. This, then, is in no sense actually a Gino Parks solo single, but then Motown would go on to set new standards in misleadingly-labelled acts later in the Sixties.
Anyway. The song. Right. Well. It sets out its stall very early, and gives itself just one task – to try and sound very similar to, but not exactly the same as, Yakety Yak. Where in the Coasters’ record the plot revolves around a petulant teen who needs a slap refusing to do his chores, here the story is of a bickering married couple. Unlike the Coasters’ record, where the different singers’ roles weren’t clearly defined, here there are definite “parts” being played. Oddly, Parks and Lumpkin, together, play the role of the wife. Most of the song is taken up with their castigation of Bateman, the largely-silent browbeaten husband (“You gotta buy me a brand new dress / I’m sick and tired of this mess… I should have married Jimmy Joe / He owns the barber’s shop next door…). It’s a bit odd having two blokes doing an unconvincing job of playing one woman, but it somehow works, especially when the husband and wife have a brief interchange at 1:20 when they both threaten to up and find new partners.
By its own limited standards, it’s quite successful; it’s not as irritating as the original, and it’s not unamusing (Lumpkin’s semi-yodel and Parks’ disgruntled “I guess I’m stuck right here witCHOO!” – the counterpart to the actual “Yakety Yak” bit in the Coasters’ hit – raise a brief smile, and Bateman is actually quite funny as he gets told to “paint the place” and then proceeds to spend the entire remainder of the song bemoaning this request, repeating “aww, paint the place? paint the place?” in his disgruntled low bass voice, culminating in a genuinely entertaining childish retort of “YOU paint the place.”) Nonetheless, its aspirations are limited, and it’s too closely tied to its source to succeed on any higher level than “novelty record”, and not really funny or charming enough to warrant repeated plays on its own merits.
Apart from the B-side, no more would be heard of “Hank, Gino & Bob”, but all three would go on to release much better records than this one in the future. Parks, in particular, might have had cause to be grateful that this abortive beginning was so little-heard and so hastily withdrawn; he would at least get to launch his solo career proper with more of a bang a few months down the line.
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.
“A Love That Can Never Be”
“Don’t Say Bye Bye”