B-side of Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide
Out of the four sides released by Marvin Gay(e) in the space of one week in May 1961, this upbeat R&B/rock and roll number is the closest in terms of “feel” to Gaye’s later early-Sixties hits, but it’s also the least recognisable as a Marvin Gaye lead vocal.
As with the underwhelming A-side, this is a song done specifically at the request of the label, a half-arsed stab at Young People’s Music, a necessary chore in return for Tamla funding and releasing an album of MOR standards; once again, Marvin’s heart is palpably not in it.
It’s certainly much livelier than both the A-side and the preceding easy listening/smooth jazz single, (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over / Witchcraft; it’s a rollicking uptempo number where the bored Funk Brothers are allowed to cut (a bit) loose; it’s really rather fun, following the Popcorn Wylie approach of pounding the hell out of a piano (indeed, it might actually be Popcorn himself on piano here, I don’t know), and featuring a series of enjoyable whoops and “Ow!”s to further enliven proceedings.
It’s not actually a bad song, judged on its own merits; it’s charming, and its structure was used almost wholesale on Eddie Holland’s equally-likeable If It’s Love (It’s Alright) a year later.
The main problems with this record are twofold. Firstly, that it’s almost impossible TO judge the song on its own merits, because its central refrain of Wop-bop-a-lu-bop / sha-lu-bop / sha-lu-bop (which starts the song and ends every chorus) is a thinly-veiled, staggeringly-obvious lift from Tutti Frutti, an impression only amplified by the spirited piano-bashing. It would be years before Berry Gordy would learn to trust his songwriters to come up with original ideas of their own, rather than trying to eke a living producing knock-offs to feed on the success of some recent well-known hit.
Secondly, while Marvin doesn’t sound quite as bored as he did on the A-side, he’s still only giving this about fifty per cent, tops. The song really calls for a forceful, full-on Gaye delivery to mask its pilfering and lack of lyrical content, but he sounds most un-Gayelike: flat, perfunctory, almost limp, doing those whoops and “Ow!”s by rote; going through the motions.
As a result, this isn’t as good as it could have been, and despite being the exact kind of thing Berry Gordy had in mind when trying to push Gaye towards R&B stardom rather than the lounge clubs, it doesn’t quite work, thus proving nobody’s point and ending up relegated to a B-side. A pity.
Footnote: This was co-written by Berry Gordy’s sister Anna, the namesake of big sister Gwen’s Anna Records label, and (more pertinently) Marvin Gaye’s soon-to-be wife, the woman to whom the incredible Here, My Dear LP was dedicated in 1978.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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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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“Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide”
“I Don’t Want To Take A Chance”