(Written by Mickey Stevenson and Loucye Gordy Wakefield)
Following on from the rough and ready charms of their début single Whole Lotta Woman, Motown’s resident hellraisers the Contours served up another energetic dancefloor number for the follow-up.
The group were the best dancers on the roster by a country mile, wowing live audiences with their acrobatic flips, splits and rolls, and so the label decided to take the Contours to the next level; they would get to start their own dance craze. The summer of 1961 saw America going mad for the Twist, a phenomenon which Motown would do its level best to cash in on over the coming months, with little success. However, when Berry Gordy – never afraid to shout “me too” when confronted with a popular trend – decided to get in on the action, his first impulse was to try and start his own hot new dance sensation; the rather simpler idea of just releasing a load of Twist records doesn’t seem to have occurred to him to begin with.
By the time The Stretch was due for release, Twist fever was out of control, and Motown switched horses mid-race; no fewer than three Twist singles were lined up for rush release, as well as a whole Funk Brothers instrumental LP credited to “The Twistin’ Kings”. The Contours and their Stretch, meanwhile, were quietly forgotten; starved of promotion, this single tanked.
With the dance it was meant to kick-start on dancefloors across America now lost to history, the record itself is a strangely orphaned artefact. Motown’s hottest young songwriter of the time, William “Mickey” Stevenson, had turned out a fine, energetic R&B stomp, and the Funk Brothers appreciated the chance to cut loose on this kind of raucous material, with muscular drums and billowing sax pumping in the background of the verses as we hear the directions for the doomed would-be dance craze (which – oddly – sounds as though it was seemingly intended to be a sort of between-songs rest and warm-up routine, rather than a dance to be performed to this actual record).
The big hook, however, is the syncopated chorus, in which the music repeatedly stops so that the Contours can do an acapella Stretch – aaaaah! Stretch – woooo!, which is both immediately arresting and infectiously amusing. The unstoppable rolling coda, which calls to mind Smokey’s Dance for me, swingers vocal riff from the Miracles’ I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying several years later, is another highlight.
On the whole, while it’s not quite as striking as their début, The Stretch is another opportunity to enjoy the young Contours having a great time to a stomping beat, which is always a good combination.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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“So Long Baby”