B-side of Itsy Bity Pity Love
(Written by Mickey Stevenson)
Unlike the A-side, Itsy Bity Pity Love, which was a fairly shameless attempt to get Motown some airplay on white radio by releasing a white-sounding record by an older white artist, this B-side has slightly more in common with the rest of the Motown output of the time. Slightly.
This time, it’s rising Motown songwriting/producing star Mickey Stevenson’s turn to do something on Debbie Dean. Faced (as Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Janie Bradford and Popcorn Wylie had all been faced) with the problem of what to do with Dean’s distinctive voice, Stevenson crafts an uptempo lightweight pop song, with obvious mainstream radio ambitions but also an engaging suggestion of R&B freedom.
Debbie is again excellent, her unusual voice calling to mind the better moments of both Mary Wells and Smokey Robinson, and the backing is a little less restrained than it had been on the top side – just a little – with the developing Funk Brothers turning in a fine, muted performance. Motown boss Berry Gordy even gets in on the act, ringing a cowbell; the record would be better if he hadn’t done that, actually, because the song opens with a very white early Sixties MOR radio drum fill, and coupled with Gordy’s cowbell it gives a misleading picture of how naff the record will turn out to be. Luckily, it’s pretty quickly steered away from novelty hell and towards respectability.
It’s a decent song, which actually reminds me a bit of the Tokens’ When I Go To Sleep At Night (a roughly contemporary hit song, released a few months earlier) and the Chiffons’ peerless cover version from 1963.
Still, neither side of the single made any kind of commercial impression whatsoever. The hoped-for white radio play didn’t materialise, in part because – crucially – Motown were already starting to pick up play from white stations across America with their black artists’ hits, starting with the Marvelettes’ brilliant Please Mr. Postman. Berry Gordy never stopped chasing white audiences in search of extra cash from untapped markets, but nor would he continue to pin his company’s commercial hopes on those white middle-class dollars. Debbie Dean would have one more Motown single in the era, released six months later when some of her labelmates were starting to become accustomed to riding in the higher reaches of the charts, before leaving the label for several years.
(A footnote: This is one of the few sides for which the compilers of The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 couldn’t locate a master tape, meaning the version used had to be mastered from a 45rpm vinyl single. This time, it’s an absolutely pristine job; if it wasn’t mentioned in the notes, there’s no way you’d ever know there wasn’t an extant master to work from.)
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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“Itsy Bity Pity Love”
|Rev. Columbus Mann
“They Shall Be Mine”