(Released in the UK under license through Fontana Records)
The prodigal brother returns. Edward Holland, Jr., older brother of Motown songwriter Brian Holland and a former soundalike demo vocalist for Motown boss Berry Gordy’s songs for Jackie Wilson, had recorded the second ever single for the Tamla label (Merry-Go-Round, all the way back in February 1959) before being signed up to United Artists, together with Marv Johnson. The money for those deals provided Motown with the financial stability to survive its shaky early days, but while Johnson had gone on to rack up a string of decent-sized hits at UA, Eddie’s career had failed to take off; the older Holland brother found himself dropped after a run of four straight flop singles, and made his way back to Motown to resume his singing career.
Luckily for Eddie, he came back into the Hitsville fold just at the same time as another early Motown vocalist, Barrett Strong, was departing. Holland thus ended up inheriting a song and track which Strong had been working on as part of his endless, doomed quest for a follow-up hit to Money (That’s What I Want). Strong had missed the charts with all four of his subsequent singles, but gave up and left the company before releasing this, which would have been his fifth such attempt – and after Eddie Holland had recorded his lead vocals over the top of the pre-recorded track, the returnee promptly scored a Top 30 pop hit. Penny for Strong’s thoughts at this point.
Or not, as the case may be. Strong has certainly been magnanimous enough about it in the intervening years (the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 have him almost disaffected, quoting him as saying “by Eddie singing on it, it was my hit too”). Neither man’s future was really behind a microphone, both disdained live performance, and both would go on to far greater successes as Motown songwriters than performers, so it’s hard to guess how upset or otherwise Barrett Strong might really have been watching someone else take “his” song up the charts.
Although, in point of fact, this song isn’t actually all that good. Opening with a distinctive series of orchestral string flourishes building to a crescendo, it peters out very quickly into a jaunty, slightly cheesy string-led romp through Sixties MOR radio territory.
Holland is on good form, though, gamely opening the song with a comedy “Shhh!”. His voice has lost nothing since his first Motown forays two and a half years previously; no great shakes technically, he sings with an audible smile on his face which immediately warms the listener. The effect is initially highly engaging, even as he winds his way through the verses, which are little more than an extended build-up to what sounds like it’s going to be a great chorus. With the help of some cracking female backing vocals, the song rises inexorably to meet that chorus, and you’re bracing yourself in anticipation – but when it gets there it’s a tremendous disappointment, a damp squib which just never gets out of first gear.
“Jamie / Talkin’ about Jamie / talkin’ bout Jamie / That’s my girl.”
And that’s it. It doesn’t scan, it doesn’t flow, it does nothing.
A stupendous middle eight at 1:15 (the “She comforts me when I am sad, now” bit) suggests flashes of the brilliance to come later in Holland’s career, on both sides of the microphone; but it can’t last, and we’re quickly sucked back to earth and that pedestrian chorus.
Of course, Holland had no part in writing this one. Tempting, though, to wonder whether he was making mental notes, hearing the poor scansion of Strong and Stevenson’s song, thinking of lyrical improvements along the way. Perhaps.
Anyway, so, the material isn’t stellar. What it is is up-to-the-minute; it sounds like an early Sixties radio-friendly R&B/pop hit, which of course is what it was. Eddie Holland, though, has to take some of the credit for turning it into a hit record, which perhaps wouldn’t have happened had Barrett Strong kept hold of it (witness Strong’s underwhelming delivery of a stronger (no pun intended) song in Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right a few months previously, for example). Jamie certainly suits Holland’s voice much better than it would have Strong’s, calling as it does for a lot of high notes and a harmonious, good-natured, almost throwaway delivery. Additionally, Holland was still only 21 and (crucially) doing pretty darn well in the looks department; there was still a job opening at Motown for a teen idol, and Eddie had the looks and the voice to make it happen.
(Compare and contrast with what was happening to the similarly-handsome Marvin Gaye at the same time, caught in a battle between schlocky standards and exciting pop/R&B crossover records. It would be almost another year before Gaye’s pop chart popularity outmatched Holland’s, and another year again before it finally became clear which of the two would be the star performer and which the world-beating songwriter.)
The songwriting career of Edward Holland Jr. has long since eclipsed the recording career of Eddie Holland, but even as a singer there was considerably better to come in Holland’s future. Still, while this early hit isn’t much to listen to today (thanks to that weedy, underpowered chorus too small for the song), it played its part in keeping him at Motown, thus helping set the stage for the glory days of the mid-Sixties.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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“Take A Chance On Me”