b/w Who’s Lovin’ You
(Written by Berry Gordy and Barney Ales)
Whole books have been written about how Florence Ballard was originally considered to be the lead singer of the Supremes, and how Diana Ross supposedly ended up ousting her from that role, but this is one of the few times Flo ever got to sing lead on an actual Supremes record (and the only time solo on a released Supremes single).
Ross had handled lead vocal duties on both sides of their Motown début 7″ a few months previously; despite general widespread critical condemnation over the years, I have to say that I find both of those sides, the haunting I Want A Guy and the heartfelt Never Again, to be quite excellent. The same can’t be said for this ill-considered “saucy” novelty, a total miscalculation and a bad mistake as well as a bad record.
It’s wholly understandable – I Want A Guy, all wide-eyed breathless epic teenage romance, had bombed, and so Motown thought they’d try a different tack, sidelining coy, girlish Diana and putting engaging, big-voiced Flo (who most sources agree usually sang lead for the group’s stage shows in the era) front and centre, repositioning the group as raw, brash, sexy, sassy and worldly. Trouble is, the Supremes were never that kind of group, regardless of who was singing lead, and the result is an embarrassing mis-step.
The record (which exists in two versions, a rougher early take and a shorter, slightly more polished later re-recording, the single being re-pressed halfway through its run) isn’t much of a song at all. It’s a competent “comedy” R&B jam, one that only really exists to hammer home a tenuous playground-level double entendre which doesn’t entirely make sense and stops being remotely funny after the first verse, but which limps painfully along for almost three minutes in the longer of the two cuts.
The “joke”, such as it is, is that Flo’s boyfriend really likes buttered popcorn, and he “likes it greasy and sticky and gooey and salty”, because, you see, all those words have vaguely sexual connotations which could (just about, at a stretch) refer to some kind of unspecified sex act, and everyone knows you can’t do that on the radio! Outrageous! Ha ha ha! It’s about as salacious and daring as a five-year-old sniggering at the word “poopdeck”.
Poor Flo gamely gives it her best shot, interspersing the first line with a charming series of saucy, throaty giggles and delivering a really committed vocal performance, giving much better than the piss-poor material deserves, but it’s a hopeless battle; this record is an unsalvageable dud.
According to the liner notes for The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1, co-writer and Motown owner Berry Gordy was totally unaware that the song could possibly be taken at anything other than face value, an innocent paean to the joys of eating popcorn, and was shocked when he was informed that some people had otherwise interpreted his music to infer something less than wholesome. Well, I call bullshit. Not for the first time, either (see my earlier comments on the Satintones’ Tomorrow and Always); not only was Gordy too smart an operator for that story to fly, and too canny a businessman to let something like that slip past his watchful eye, but he was also much too good a songwriter to knock pap like this out without there being something more to it. If the double entendre isn’t there, this song has no reason to exist at all.
Sadly for Flo, she’d seldom be offered the chance to cut better material on lead, while the Supremes would have to endure two more years of similarly embarrassing flops before registering their first respectable chart hit of any kind.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- The Vows (May 1965)
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“My Kind Of Love”
“Who’s Lovin’ You”