B-side of They Shall Be Mine
(Written by Rev. Columbus Mann)
While the A-side of Reverend Mann’s only Motown single, They Shall Be Mine, is a bit of a mess, it’s a quite different kettle of fish to this shambolic B-side.
We open with yet more music-hall piano tinkling, possibly courtesy of Rev. Mann’s supposed erstwhile parishioner and Motown organist George Fowler, whereupon Mann and the same terrible backing choir we heard on They Shall Be Mine indulge in a lengthy, largely-unintelligble sequence of painfully out-of-tune gospel “singing”, mostly one-word, one-note bursts of aimless vocalising. This whole section feels almost acapella, despite the prominent piano and some vigorously shaken tambourine, because the music and rhythm don’t seem to have anything at all to do with the singers, who carry on as though wholly unaware of their presence.
As well as being exruciatingly dull, this section is also ear-splittingly difficult to listen to, and the Reverend – who also wrote this thing – allows it to go on for almost half the song’s duration, surely trying the patience of even the most devout of churchgoing listeners, and just long enough that you begin to wonder whether the whole record is going to be like this, because he appears to have left it too late to do anything surprising. You maybe start to think about skipping the rest of the song: musically it’s done literally nothing at all this entire time, you’re not even sure what it is they’re saying so it’s doing nothing for your eternal soul either; what’s the point of sticking around for another few minutes of this drivel?
But! Hold the phone, music fans. At 1:35, the saloon tinkling is replaced by a slow, gutsy, bluesy piano riff, and Reverend Mann suddenly switches up into the full-on James Brown vocal delivery he’d given on the A-side, and the song changes so completely, so differently to the dreary first minute and a half, that it’s almost a medley.
Because the second half of this song is all kinds of excellent. After a melismatic blast of sermonising (which actually comes as a relief, believe it or not (no pun intended) after the rigours of the horrible overture), the song absolutely takes off just as we hit two minutes. The backing singers suddenly accept their limitations and lock into an endless groove, repeating the single phrase Yes, he loves me over and over again in a call-and-response style after each of Rev. Mann’s lines. Mann, meanwhile, is on fire, testifying in full force screaming out his devotional lyrics with hair-raising passion (indeed, it sounds as though he quite possibly literally was on fire during the session). It’s such a remarkable turnaround that if you split this record in half, you’d never guess both halves came from the mind and larynx of the same man.
Because of the interminable caterwauling first half, Jesus Loves feels much longer than its actual running time – it’s not even three and a half minutes long, but you’d swear it was at least five. (To the point where – when this faded out having clocked in at only 3:20 – I honestly thought the FLAC file I was listening to had somehow got corrupted, meaning I had to go back to Disc 5 of The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 to check; when it gave the same reading, I even briefly wondered if the CD player was broken as well. It wasn’t.)
Still, there’s enough in the last half of this record to forgive the ghastly sins of the first half and make it worthwhile, enough for the listener to regret that Rev. Mann wouldn’t stick around Hitsville to record any more singles. Young, charismatic, and obviously talented as both a vocalist and a songwriter, the Reverend did see a Tamla LP released the following year, but that was it as far as his Motown career was concerned.
He could have become a curveball sideshow for Berry Gordy’s growing Motown empire, releasing a whole slew of hectoring, attention-demanding gospel-blues records as the Sixties ticked by, and it’s fascinating (to me anyway) to think about how that might have played out. Instead, Rev. Mann bounced around several smaller Detroit labels through the decade, but ultimately his mind was on a higher calling than mere pop records.
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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|Rev. Columbus Mann
“They Shall Be Mine”
“Someone To Call My Own”