B-side of I Know How It Feels
One of the great Motown traditions to develop over the company’s first 20 years would be that of the B-side that’s at least as good, if not actually better, than the A-side, and this charming midtempo offering is another early entry in that category.
It’s also yet more evidence of the growing talent of co-writer Brian Holland for finding an unusual melody, an unusual sound. He’d been credited on such faintly offbeat, interesting and ultimately memorable songs as Barrett Strong’s You Knows What To Do, the excellently-named Henry Lumpkin’s I’ve Got A Notion and the Supremes’ haunting début single I Want A Guy – but with this B-side, it’s clear he was working towards something greater, that he maybe had a vague vision of the string of immortal pop classics he (and his brother, and his friend) would end up penning just a few years down the line. You can just about hear it in the tune of My Kind Of Love – jumbled perhaps, unclear, hazy, but there.
It’s an indicator of where the HDH stable would eventually ply its trade: knocking out a straight pop song with a strong hook and effortless charm, but twisted ever so slightly so that the tune grabs the ear and forms the beginning of an involuntary smile.
The songwriter’s craft isn’t polished enough at this point to turn this one into a masterpiece, and it’s not instantly identifiable with the later “Motown Sound” of the mid-Sixties golden age, but here Holland – partnered as a songwriter with two of the Satintones’ line-up of the time, including his then-regular songwriting partner Robert Bateman, as well as Chester Scott, formerly a bandmate of newly-recruited Satintone Vernon Williams in the Royal Holidays – is definitely flexing his songwriting muscles, trying new things, pushing the envelope.
My Kind Of Love bursts into life with an off-beat drum crash and a barrage of horns and backing vocals, and the split-second gap between those two things is just enough to put the listener on notice that this won’t be as straightforward (read: dull) as first feared. The basic structure of the song calls to mind Berry Gordy’s songwriting for Jackie Wilson, rather than a later HDH masterpiece, but Holland’s particular skew on an otherwise flat doo-wop-influenced R&B group dancer turns it into something a bit more interesting.
For a start, it’s not much of a group record at all. Co-writer Robert Bateman, whose deep bass voice so often kept Satintones records (including the A-side of this single, I Know How It Feels) rocking along, much in the way Melvin Franklin would do for the Temptations in later years, is virtually absent from proceedings here, and the rest of the group is relegated to the kind of backing vocals (strong, competent, anonymous) that wouldn’t even warrant a label credit during the company’s mid-Sixties heyday. As a record, this is much closer to the work of Motown solo turns like Barrett Strong, and even Marv Johnson, than the Satintones’ previous intricately-layered vocal highlights such as My Beloved and Angel.
No, My Kind Of Love doesn’t sound much like a Satintones record. It’s pretty much a showcase for the strong lead vocals of Vernon Williams, which (as on the A-side) steal the show here; with the group’s fortunes on the wane, it’s not inconceivable Williams might have been angling for a solo deal following the group’s forthcoming split, a split which was made inevitable by the failure of this record and its final, last-ditch follow-up a few months later.
Secondly, the amount of instruments being used here is astonishing; layers and layers and layers of strings, horns, drums, guitars, sax, pretty much everything but the kitchen sink, built into a most un-Spectorlike wall of sound, in tune with (but hovering a good couple of octaves above) the lead vocal, and used to carry a smooth, meandering melody which – like the best HDH songs in the future – goes to places which are mildly unexpected but always natural, never alarming. The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 state that this was the first Motown B-side to also feature a string section, which depending on your viewpoint can either be taken as an indication of the lavish care being taken by the young company on the quality of its releases, or alternatively that My Kind Of Love might have been intended for a single release at some point before being held back. Either way, it’s a strikingly complicated backing track, but done exceedingly well.
I’m making this sound like a minor Motown classic, which it isn’t, not really. There’s plenty wrong with it. The lyrics are both generic and completely forgettable, for a start, to the point I couldn’t tell you what the song is meant to be about even though I’ve been listening to it on a loop for almost twenty minutes now. All that layered instrumentation all over the place means that one musical line sometimes gets in the way of another, blotting out vital bits of harmony and stepping on the toes of the melody. Robert Bateman, if he’s even on the record, is inaudible. It can’t quite decide where it wants to go, and so never quite commits itself to the memory in the way that even mid-range HDH singles later would. It lacks a killer finish to round off a strong tune, instead just sort of giving up after two and a half minutes.
But they’re two and a half thoroughly enjoyable minutes, all of that stuff I just said notwithstanding. Like the A-side, it’s a fun pop record which doesn’t insist upon itself. Unlike the A-side, it contains the germ of something truly great in Motown’s future.
The Satintones wouldn’t still exist by the time the Motown Sound fully came into being. This single stiffed, and that was pretty much the end of the line for Motown’s first vocal group. One last, half-hearted single, a really poor cover version of Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart, would slip out almost unnoticed in October 1961 before the group finally called it a day. Their vacated place in the Motown hierarchy was filled nearly seamlessly by the Temptations, and everyone forgot all about the Satintones.
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 Know How It Feels”
” Buttered Popcorn”