B-side of I Don’t Want To Take A Chance
(Written by Earl Brooks, Berry Gordy and Lessie Brooks)
A bluesy, earthy workout for Motown’s electrifying teenage diva Mary Wells, whose smouldering, mature voice here walks the edge of hoarseness, elevating an otherwise fairly plain song well above its station.
The record is one of the first Motown releases to inhabit the kind of weird Twilight Zone middle ground between radio-friendly blues, late-period doo-wop and nascent R&B that so many Motown singles would be drawn from over the next two years, a kind of early prototype “Motown sound”, quite different from – indeed, almost unrelated to – the heart-pounding mid-Sixties R&B/pop crossover music that that label would eventually come to signify.
It’s decent stuff, too; nothing earth-shattering, not original, just a fine standard-issue Sixties blues. The band is on fine form, getting into the “light blues” mood without sounding too straitjacketed or censored; finding a new way to play. The lyrics are simplistic but earnest, our heroine pleading with her man for another chance, having stuffed up a promising relationship the first time around.
But really, the record’s appeal begins and ends with Mary Wells, and her sheer presence, and of course that voice. Yet again, listening to another assured, sassy, sexy performance, it’s startling to remember she was just a few days past her eighteenth birthday.
Just two singles in, and Wells’ position atop the hierarchy of female Motown vocalists was already secure. Mable John and Sherri Taylor had put their cards on the table; the Supremes’ young Diana Ross had gamely given it a go; even the boss’ wife Raynoma Liles Gordy, “Miss Ray” herself, had stepped forward; but not one of them was in Wells’ league. Mary wasn’t just a great singer, she was a pop star; adored by throngs of screaming, fanatical teens, some of whom had already taken to following her in the streets, she was one of the very first women to enjoy such adulation, and her career was inescapably taking off into uncharted territory for both Motown and for popular music in general.
Her discovery and subsequent blossoming, whether a calculated master plan or beyond the bosses’ wildest dreams, was certainly a case of fortuitous timing for Motown.
Whilst it might have been the case that the label needed a superstar so badly that if Mary Wells hadn’t existed, Motown would have had to create her, they couldn’t have hit a bigger jackpot.
Flush with this success, Motown would shortly release six singles in a row by acts it had already begun to try and “break”, with varying degrees of success (Barrett Strong, the Miracles, Mable John, Gino Parks, the Satintones, the Supremes), followed by a debut 45 from a promising new group signing named the Temptations, all in the hope that the company would be able to promote another artist to genuine star level and boast another top-drawing act – if lightning would just strike twice. Of course it would (and more than twice, in fact), but not for just a little while yet. And before that, there was another obscure oddity on the release schedule.
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 Don’t Want To Take A Chance”
“Rosa Lee (Stay Off The Bell)”