B-side of Rosa Lee (Stay Off The Bell)
Silly, entertaining, and much, much better than the charmless rockabilly-lite A-side, mainly because this one actually sounds like an Andre Williams record.
Instead of trying to sing, as he had on the plug side with predictably poor results, here Williams is back to something like his usual trademark comic whiny drawl. The record sounds a lot closer to Williams’ offbeat chart smash Bacon Fat and its selection of louche, deranged follow-ups (see the Rosa Lee review for more information on those, as well as some links to song clips); it’s pretty clear everyone is having more fun on this than they were on the top side, and that sense of fun comes across and sucks the listener in, so that you can’t help but grin along with it.
The track opens with a coruscating burst of raw sax before giving way to a giddy, sloping, grooving rhythm bed (anchored by some female voices repeating the title – which never gets explained – over and over again, obviously trying very hard to keep from collapsing into fits of giggles) in a kind of downtempo blues thing, over which Williams delivers a rambling anecdote about how he asked a girl he met whether she’d like to accompany him to the pictures that night (“indubitably”, she excellently replies), only to be told he’s got to ask her parents’ permission, and in doing so opened himself up to a lengthy list of requirements.
First, mother says yes to the date, but on the condition that he take his date’s brother and sister along with him as chaperones. After our hero weighs this up in his mind and decides they won’t ruin his chances too much (and that he might enjoy the challenge of trying to get up to no good with his date while trying to avoid their attentions – he even subtly implies he might not mind the brother and sister getting involved – her sister on my left and her brother on the right / I thought that this might be a int’resting night – which is more like the Andre Williams we’ve come to know), he agrees to Mum’s request, only to find her trying harder and harder to put him off by presenting an ever-expanding list of implausible attendees who must accompany the couple on the proposed date – aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends, pets, the works – each time punctuated with Williams’ increasingly-exasperated retort (Oh – oh no) – and the song eventually fades out with the list still being added to. By the end of the song, by my reckoning we’re up to seventeen uninvited guests and counting.
It’s ludicrous, nonsensical and hilarious, at least the first couple of listens, pure Andre Williams right the way through, and it’s so much more likeable than the A-side that it’s unquestionably the stronger track of the two. Whether it would have done any better on the charts is another matter (it had been four years since Bacon Fat had hit, and none of Williams’ other follow-ups had done any business), but there’s no doubting which of the two sides is the better record.
Sadly, Williams would never be given another shot on the fun side of the glass while at Motown, but he would rack up a fine body of work as a songwriter and producer (as well as an impressive tally of arguments with Berry Gordy) before finally leaving for pastures new in the mid-Sixties, perhaps slightly too much of a free spirit/loose cannon (delete according to preference) to fit in at a company like Motown.
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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“Rosa Lee (Stay Off The Bell)”