b/w My Kind Of Love
The penultimate Motown single for the Satintones, the first group ever signed to the label, though this version of the group had since gone through a line-up change which cost it one of its most talented members, Chico Leverett. The group had never had a hit of any kind, and the only previous release by these Leverett-less “new” Satintones, the hastily-withdrawn Shirelles knock-off Tomorrow And Always, didn’t bode particularly well for their new material.
This one still wasn’t a hit, but it’s really rather nice all the same. Now, I hate having to describe a record as “rather nice”. Firstly, well, it seems totally against the whole point of pop music, especially Motown pop music, which is supposed to be vibrant and beautiful and exciting and alive, not “nice”. But it’s not always a criticism, and this record is definitely a nice record – it’s pretty, it’s well-sung and has a pretty tune. It’s neither heartbreakingly beautiful nor bracingly raucous, but that’s not to give the impression that it’s bland, that it’s boring, because it isn’t – it’s a fine little pop record. Hence: nice.
Secondly, and more importantly, it feels somehow mealy-mouthed, like damning with faint praise, or a backhanded compliment, and it doesn’t make for fun writing (nor, I’m guessing, does it make particularly good reading) if this whole blog just descends into a meaningless soup of “It’s quite good, not great, not awful, I quite like it. 73%”. Trouble is, a lot of these earlier Motown sides fall into that kind of category; stuff that can’t necessarily hold its own against the later stuff from the classic Motown Sound era, stuff that falls short of greatness but that’s fun to listen to while it’s on. Ach, even that sounds dismissive, as though I’m just casually categorising great stacks of fine records as no more than aural wallpaper. Well, that’s not what I’m doing. I love records, which is why I have so many of the bloody things. I love records too freely, in fact, so much so that I often worry my quality control threshold is set too low. But there’s so much fun music out there, music which maybe isn’t going to win anyone’s Record of the Year, or Favourite Record of All Time, or what have you, but which is worth having, worth listening to, nonetheless. This – along with many, many other early Motown sides – is one such record.
So, yes. Contrary to expectations, I Know How It Feels is a really nice, fun record, capable of standing toe to toe with the finest of the Satintones material from the back catalogue. Robert Bateman’s deep bass voice again anchors the whole thing, just as it had done on the two best Satintones records to date, the striking My Beloved and the gorgeous Angel; here, his refreshingly unaffected, repeated riff of “brrrrrrrr-rom-pom-pompom, brrrrrrrr-rom-pom-pompom” is inexplicable and fun enough to put a smile on your face right away.
Just like on those two songs, all the pieces fall into place here, too, resulting in a highly likeable effort. On first tenor, replacing Jim Ellis – who was one of Motown’s most frustratingly inconsistent lead singers, capable of true vocal greatness one minute and ear-bashing ineptitude the next – is new recruit Vernon Williams, who was formerly the lead singer with his previous group the Royal Holidays, and who has a very good day here, smooth, smoky and emotive, one of the better Motown vocals of the early years. Quite a surprise discovery; on this evidence, Williams had the vocal chops to have been a much bigger star, but he doesn’t appear to have done a great deal after the Satintones imploded less than a year later.
The tune is a good one, too, starting out as a sort of doo-wop tango, all brushed drums and layers of backing vocals, with a string-laden arrangement adding a touch of quality to proceedings. A jarring change in drum pattern for the chorus startles a bit on first listen, and in retrospect it’s probably that bit that put worried radio jocks off the record before they and their listeners had a chance to get used to it; a pity, because this one had chart potential, however unlikely it was to become a smash hit.
So, yeah. Hardly a classic, but even though the Motown catalogue has enough bona fide classic records to keep you busy for days, that’s no reason to ignore the fun to be had by digging a bit deeper and finding stuff like I Know How It Feels. This is a worthy successor to My Beloved and Angel which doesn’t disgrace that legacy; that should be enough for anyone.
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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“That’s No Lie”
“My Kind Of Love”