B-side of Please Mr Kennedy
Mickey Woods, here making his final appearance on a Motown record, was a minor figure at best in the Motown story. He may have been the first white male solo act on the label (if he was indeed white – he’s so obscure now that the Internet hasn’t thus far been able to confirm even this kind of basic information). However, at least one historical Motown “first” can definitely be ascribed to him, and a rather more significant one than the colour of Woods’ skin: this B-side marks the first ever Motown writing credit for Norman Whitfield, later one of the all-time great songwriters and producers.
Odd that this should have been relegated to the B-side – it’s clearly intended as a take on Sam Cooke’s Cupid, released earlier the same year, and if Motown was chasing cash-in sales, then (with hindsight) cashing in on a much-beloved crossover R&B hit surely seems a more promising prospect than the A-side, Please Mr Kennedy, a take-off on a Larry Verne novelty MOR hit (Please Mr Custer) from almost two years previously. Perhaps Berry Gordy felt that to invite comparison between Sam Cooke (who was one of the all-time great voices) and Mickey Woods (who wasn’t) would be unfairly prejudicial. Maybe he just really liked Please Mr Custer. Who knows?
It’s all to do with the tune – Brian Holland was quickly becoming the label’s king of unusual and beautiful melodies, providing memorable hooks rather than going for the blandly obvious, and he has a hand in another promising one here. It’s not as pretty as Cooke’s Cupid, but it’s perhaps more interesting in places – the main tune line of the song that first features at 0:23 (“I’m sad / Feelin’ so bad / ‘Cause I never had a love of my own”) is both haunting and redolent of Holland’s best later work. There’s also an ambitious string break in the middle eight which is pleasing to hear; the sound of musical horizons being continually broadened.
Woods does his level best to ruin it – his delivery is once again awful, simultaneously flat, weak and thin, a double shame because the song would have ideally suited someone like Freddie Gorman or the quickly-forgotten Pete Hartfield, neither of whom was afforded a second chance like Woods gets here – but even his poor performance can’t completely torpedo the best moments of the lovely melody.
None of which is to say this is a good record, not really. The song can’t keep up the strong standards it sets itself, meandering from surprisingly modern and beguiling passages to bland, lumpen MOR seemingly crafted as bait for white radio. That unexpected string interlude is a little rough, coming over at times as awkward and scraping; hardly the lush orchestral aural carpeting that would come to be associated with Motown in later years. And Woods, as mentioned, is particularly poor, both in his technical performance and his relationship to the material.
Nonetheless, it’s not at all awful, not by any stretch of the imagination, which is something that couldn’t be said of Woods’ previous Motown appearances. Indeed, by those standards, this record allows him to go out on something of a triumph.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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“Please Mr Kennedy”