b/w Jesus Loves
(Written by Rev. Columbus Mann and Mattie Clark)
Motown’s third foray into the world of gospel music, following the straightforward testifying of the Gospel Stars’ He Lifted Me and the Golden Harmoneers’ more rocking I Am Bound (not to mention its more radical B-side Precious Memories).
Stories differ as to how the Reverend Columbus Mann came to join the Hitsville flock. Most accounts agree that Mann was a preacher at Detroit’s True Love church, and that he was known as a showman, extemporising lively songs during his sermons and electrifying his congregation. Some also note that he was still a young man when he came to record with Motown, having been a former classmate of Richard “Popcorn” Wylie. Beyond these facts, things get hazy. George Fowler, a Motown arranger, producer and organist who would later be tabbed to run the short-lived gospel-only Divinity Records subsidiary, was supposedly one of Rev. Mann’s parishioners, and brought the preacher to Berry Gordy’s attention by dragging Gordy along to church one Sunday to see Rev. Mann do his thing. Whether any of this is actually true is open to debate. Whatever the case, Mann was signed to Motown, and not only given permission to record two of his own compositions on the two sides of his début single, but also afforded a session produced by Berry Gordy himself.
Columbus not only cut this single for Motown, but was also – like the Gospel Stars before him – given the opportunity to cut a whole LP, albeit many months after this single had appeared. They Shall Be Mine became the title track of Mann’s album in 1962; the LP is now a sought-after rarity at record fairs, though its only distinguishing feature seems to be the weird punctuation used on the front cover (below), which makes the title read They “Shall Be Mine”, like some sort of obscure Wayne’s World reference. (Ask your dad). Clearly, Rev. Mann was a highly-regarded artist around the Motown corridors of power.
Sad to report, then, that of the three gospel singles released by Motown in 1961, Rev. Mann’s is by far the weakest effort.
Opening with a cheesy burst of tinny, tinkling piano that sounds almost ninety years out of date (it feels like it belongs in the saloon scene of a low-budget Western), we then get “treated” to some completely subsumed, almost unintelligible backing vocals, courtesy of Mann’s church choir mechanically doling out tuneless off-the-shelf religious platitudes. Both the piano and the choir are poorly recorded, fuzzy and quiet to the point where they’re nearly inaudible, and even when you can hear them clearly they don’t do anything beyond the merely competent. The whole track just sounds weedy and uninspiring, the very last things you want to be saying about a gospel record.
A shame, because on the evidence of his vocals here, Rev. Mann is a proper fire-and-brimstone gospel preacher who deserved a better soapbox than this record is able to give him. Sandpaper-rough and big-voiced, coming up somewhere between Edwin Starr and Stu Gardner, he’s instantly riveting here. He almost drags the song beyond its rightful place, with an engaging roll-call of Biblical figures from roughly 1:30 to 1:50, featuring some neat interplay with the tuneless choir which is redolent of Smokey Robinson’s songwriting and which is by some distance the most interesting and likeable part of the record.
It can’t last, and the song first runs out of ideas, then steam, and finally time. The last twenty seconds are phoned in, before the whole thing just collapses in on itself, grinding to an unexpected and unsatisfactory halt. You can almost imagine Berry Gordy, at the end of a long recording session, discussing whether to do another take before deciding “nah, that’s good enough”. It isn’t; it’s a shoddy end to an insufficiently prepared, rushed-sounding single.
Rev. Mann wasn’t granted another one with Motown, though as mentioned above he did return to the label to cut a whole LP the following year, and he would continue to turn up on various minor local labels in Michigan throughout the decade.
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!)
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“But I’m Afraid”
|Rev. Columbus Mann