B-side of Actions Speak Louder Than Words
A complete change of pace and mood from the big balladry of the A-side Actions Speak Louder Than Words, this is a louche, gospel-inflected quasi-blues, occasionally chaotically disorganised and occasionally near-devotional in its direct intensity.
It’s a much better record than the A-side, something which becomes obvious right off the bat. The band are up for it, despite a few lapses (including the bass player dropping right out of time very noticeably at the end, a flub which may have been enough to spike this as a potential A-side), opening the record identically to the Supremes’ Never Again before heading off in a whole different direction.
The backing singers are in full flow too, alternately gospel and blues, reminiscent of the best work of the choir who’d earlier appeared behind the Reverend Columbus Mann, most noticeably a great droning bass part who sounds almost like a didgeridoo when he hits his lowest notes.
Mable, though, is the star of this record. No denying it, she’s absolutely in her zone here, giving probably the greatest performance of her Motown career, switching effortlessly between massive full-voiced hear-it-at-the-back-of-the-church big notes, and a sassy, almost spoken-word drawl, which actually turns into a spoken narration halfway through the song at 1:21 as she remarks sarcastically on her friends’ settling down – Phil and Lil was blessed with a boy. Hm! Weren’t they lucky? Earl and Pearl finally said “I do”. Always thought they’d make a nice couple. Little Carl and Marl learned to rock and roll dance. While I sit here lonesome – lonesome and blue – OH-OH-OH-OH! – before she picks it back up again.
The song is engaging in its way, and has co-writer Andre Williams’ songwriting fingerprints all over it (this is a good thing) – not impossible to see the musical and stylistic links between this and the likes of Shoo-Doo or Bacon Fat – but perhaps there isn’t quite enough there to do Mable’s performance justice. Certainly it’s not the sort of thing that would have flourished as a single; however, what it is is Mable John’s best Motown record to date, and it’s more than enough to make you wish she’d gone on to record whole albums worth of this stuff for Tamla.
Instead, this was the B-side of a quickly-forgotten flop, and served only as the beginning of the end for Motown’s first solo female singer. Good stuff, though. Definitely good stuff.
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.
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“Actions Speak Louder Than Words”
“What Makes You Love Him (version 2)”