b/w Take Me
(Written by Berry Gordy)
The third single for Mable John, Motown’s first solo female vocalist, and probably overall the weakest of the bunch.
The song itself isn’t particularly great – a 3/4 would-be showstopper in the same mould as Mary Wells’ magnificent Strange Love, only sounding like a cheap pale reflection of that record – but the main problem seems to be that the song just doesn’t play to Ms John’s formidable vocal strengths.
(Indeed, it may not have been written with her in mind; the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 1 make no mention of this, but Barrett Strong had definitely recorded a version of this song before Mable’s single was released, as it’s on his Complete Motown Collection CD. Strong left the company at some point between that recording session and November 1961, when this came out.)
Anyway, whatever the case, it takes Mable fully half the length of the song to get warmed up and properly get her groove on; the opening couple of verses are disconcertingly strident, while Mable wanders dangerously close to veering off-key, not just once but several times. Ironically for someone with such a massive voice, and for someone who had known Berry Gordy for so long that he claimed he could write songs for her in just five minutes, the problem seems to be that the song is just – only just – outside of Mable’s reach. In stretching to hit her marks, she’s forced to sacrifice some of the gospel warmth of her earlier performances, and the result is a much less enjoyable, less likeable record than her previous efforts.
But then the middle eight ends with a series of low brass flourishes at the 1:25-1:30 mark, and Mable repeats “That you don’t want to hurt me / Don’t want to hurt me”, and soon the song settles into a much more comfortable pattern, and Mable finally seems more at ease with where she’s going. (Or maybe I just got more used to it after that point, I don’t know).
Certainly the record rouses itself to a cracking finish, Mable finally (if briefly) out-Mary Wells-ing Mary Wells and providing a fine grandstand finalé full of character. It was probably too late for listeners by then, however; the record flopped, and Mable would have just one more Motown single release – over a year later in 1963.
(Oh, and despite what the label says, the title is clearly “Action Speaks Louder Than Words, as repeated by Mable some twenty or thirty times throughout the song. Another footnote: Berry Gordy (with Roquel Davis) had previously written another, different song with the same title as this one, for Bobby Darin on Atlantic in 1958. Confusingly (or in a neat, circular twist, depending on your point of view), the very useful Berry Gordy: Motor City Roots compilation erroneously lists the title of Darin’s record – as “Action Speaks Louder Than Words”.)
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!)
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.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in Mable John? Click for more.)
“Take A Chance”