(Written by Berry Gordy)
Motown’s resident Southern blues man, Sammy Ward – here temporarily shorn of his usual Singin’ sobriquet, though it would return for a few later releases – hadn’t had a solo single release for over a year. He might have been in danger of becoming a forgotten man in the halls of Hitsville, except that that previous solo release – Who’s The Fool – had cracked the R&B Top 30, becoming one of a very small number of R&B chart hits for the label in those early days. Berry Gordy Jr. was never quick to forget such things, and so almost a year since his last appearance on a Motown record (his duet with Sherri Taylor, Oh Lover), Singin’ Sammy was back in record stores.
This was the second released version of What Makes You Love Him (which you’d presumably worked out already, what with the “version 2” up there in the title and all, but anyway); the original version of the song had initially been the first choice for Sammy’s début single back in October 1960, but had been pulled (wisely, in retrospect) in favour of the aforementioned Who’s The Fool.
In my mind, at least, this is much the better of the two versions. For starters, it’s considerably more understated than the wildly-uneven original – where, on the 1960 cut, Sammy often sounded as though he was trying (and largely failing) to keep his raw-throated blues attack stashed away out of sight, finding himself caught between wanting to unleash a raucous blues scream and trying to deliver a softly respectable R&B croon, here he’s locked into a smoke-filled 2am bar blues groove, and it’s quite superb. Somehow it’s actually more impressive than the original, where he did let himself go a couple of times before stuffing his light back under a bushel; he never gets close to that kind of ragged edge here, and yet it’s actually more powerful for its understated quality.
Furthermore, compared to the quiet, unobtrusive and plinky saloon piano on the original, the excellent band track on show here makes it sound as though that first version is from ten years previously; the Funk Brothers are so far ahead of where they were a year ago, it sounds like a different band. The prominent jazz guitar part running throughout is just the tip of the iceberg; Sammy, the band and the lovely female backing vocals all lock together in a way which was starting to become usual practice at Motown sessions, and which would come to be expected by listeners to all Motown records during the forthcoming mid-Sixties golden age.
Those newly-added female backing vocals are pretty great, too – absent from the original, their sweet patterns change the whole feel of the record. The first version was a rough-edged but unsatisfying semi-blues; this one is a proper R&B-blues record.
(My favourite bit comes at 1:12, when Ward launches into the bridge and declares “Now he takes your money”, and the backing singers faithfully respond He takes your money; Ward then sings “And he plays the town…”, but the backing singers instead repeat He takes your money, before settling into a pattern of perfectly-tuned oooohs as Ward shimmies out of the chorus. It’s a striking little moment, and I’m a total sucker for such things – I love it. They do it again a bit later, at 1:29, he doesn’t love you / He doesn’t love you; it’s just as impressive the second time. Berry Gordy wrote this song and produced both of Ward’s recordings of it; he must have been quietly proud of his work on this second cut.)
Whereas on the 1960 cut, he didn’t even appear until over half a minute into the record – missing a significant chunk of its running time – here, he treats us to a hypnotic, melismatic cold open in the finest Thirties blues tradition, intoning What makes you love him? and making the final two words cover a dozen notes and the final “m” in “him” buzz out into an eyes-closed hum, all in the space of five seconds, before rousing himself for a quick anacrusis and striking up the band. He’s on top form throughout the song, and earns himself the right to take things up a notch – just one notch – as he vamps his way out of the coda, giving us more of the James Brown effect he’d used so well on Who’s The Fool.
This single wasn’t a follow-up hit, but it’s doubtful anyone at Motown was expecting that to happen; the marketplace was changing and blues was on its way out as a Top 20 R&B chart force. Nonetheless, it’s another cracking little record, as well as a vindication of the strength of Gordy’s original song; the remake was well worth the trouble.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- Singin’ Sammy Ward (original version) (September 1960)
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“Don’t Take It Away”