Tamla T 54052 (A), December 1961
(Written by Berry Gordy and Loucye Gordy Wakefield)
Motown’s third year of existence had been its best so far, commercially and artistically, but 1961 was still a very patchy time for the company; they’d endured a lengthy drought of sub-par records in the spring and early summer, and they closed out the year by releasing a series of Twist knock-offs and apparently clearing out a load of stuff which had presumably just been gathering dust in the Hitsville cupboards.
How else to explain the re-appearance of Mickey Woods, the man who’d been signed to spearhead Motown’s white teen pop breakthrough only to cut two alarmingly bad sides, the suicidally-doleful dirge Poor Sam Jones and its borderline-racist “comedy country” catastrophe of a B-side, They Rode Through The Valley? Though clearly Motown weren’t exactly throwing their whole weight behind Woods’ career: at least one print run of this single’s label mistakenly calls him “Mickey Wood” instead, which must have been faintly galling.
Quite unbelievably, this is a third Motown record inspired by Larry Verne’s 1960 historical-comedy hit Mr Custer, following Woods’ aforementioned They Rode Through The Valley and Popcorn Wylie’s Custer’s Last Man. You’d think that that particular lode had been mined out by this point, but no, apparently someone at Motown still believed there was mileage to be had banging the same drum.
The result is an ephemeral bit of white MOR fluff, with all the fizz of a nice mug of warm cocoa.
In a nutshell, it’s a parody of Mr Custer (nearly two years late, someone’s finger clearly right on the pulse of the zeitgeist of the time) inlaid with some contemporary political references. Instead of pleading with General Custer not to send him into battle, Woods’ narrator pleads with President Kennedy not to draft him until his girlfriend marries him; he’s convinced she’ll run off and shack up with someone else if he’s sent off to war.
(As opposed to her running off and shacking up with someone else because she’s engaged to such a total and utter drip, presumably. Once again, I don’t know what he’s worried about, as one gets the strong feeling the army would be better off without him in it – five minutes with this whiny milquetoast and they’d march him right back out of the recruiting office with a curt “thanks but no thanks”. Private Woods, dis-MISSED.)
Just as on Poor Sam Jones, Woods again delivers a weak, wet vocal pitched squarely so as not to frighten off white radio; unlike his previous effort, he’s not totally devoid of charisma here (at 1:26 there’s a throaty “Ohhhhhhh” which threatens to briefly enliven proceedings, albeit largely cancelled out by the unintentionally-funny squeaky falsetto “Oh no!” at 1:30), but on the whole it’s done with so little conviction or verve that the listener will likely remain completely unmoved by Woods’ pleadings, and completely indifferent to whether he gets sent off to war or not. Once again, it’s impossible to work out what kind of success its writer and producer Berry Gordy felt this record was going to have.
Unsurprisingly, the public weren’t queueing up round the block to grab copies of an(other) uninspiring parody of a two-year-old hit about General Custer, and the record failed to chart. It was the end of the Motown road for Mickey Woods, one of the more bemusing signings in the company’s history, but Berry Gordy never quite gave up the dream of having a successful white radio MOR singer on the books; the closest they’d come would be the turn-of-the-decade commercial peak of R. Dean Taylor on the Rare Earth label, but that was almost ten years away.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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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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|The Twistin’ Kings
“White House Twist”
“They Call Me Cupid”