B-side of (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over
(Written by Cy Coleman and Carolyn Leigh)
The last recording released by Marvin Gaye under the original spelling of his surname, this (like the A-side (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over) was a limited-run promo designed to drum up interest in the album it was lifted from, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, due for release a fortnight later.
Like the A-side, this comes from the “standards” portion of the LP, recorded at a time when Marvin and Motown boss Berry Gordy were at loggerheads over the direction Gay’s career was going to take. Marvin longed to be a lounge singer, crooning ballads for MOR audiences, taking over where Nat King Cole was leaving off. Gordy saw a dynamic, mesmerising R&B star and a teen idol, and believed that Gay was throwing his talent away on hoary old pop chestnuts like this one. The LP – comprised mainly of similar MOR smooth jazz and pop standards – was a compromise, helped in no small part by the fact Gay was dating Gordy’s younger sister Anna, as well as being best friends with Gordy’s brother-in-law Harvey Fuqua.
Unlike the A-side, which was a pure easy listening ballad delivered in Cole’s style, this one pays much more lip service to Gay’s oft-quoted love of jazz; after a jarring, discordant intro, Marvin delivers a shopworn song over a noodling, directionless, somewhat dated smooth jazz backing from a band that clearly wants to push the envelope further than the song will really allow.
The result ends up crashing between two stools; despite its overall tameness, it’s still probably far too raucous for the standards circuit crowd, but it’s nonetheless too conventional for jazz fans to really get into it. Indeed, it’s liberally spattered with almost shockingly-conventional Forties (and even Thirties) big-band moments, fills and touches, as though Gay himself was shouting at the band to calm things down, not get too excited lest they lose their target audience. It doesn’t really work on either level, and as a result, it just frustrates.
A great vocal could perhaps have saved this, but certainly Marvin isn’t anywhere near as good here as he was on the A-side, his ultra-recognisable voice low in the mix, hindered and neutered both by the contortions of the material and the unavoidable Sinatra comparisons.
A disappointment, its inclusion on the B-side was presumably intended to provide contrast with the A-side and showcase the variety of material and, er, moods to be enjoyed if one were to purchase a copy of The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye; instead, it seems to have just confused audiences, because very little press or radio play was garnered by this virtual promo single, and the album sank on release.
Still, if audiences in 1961 were confused by this, they must have been veritably baffled by what happened a mere five days later.
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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“(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over”
“Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide”