B-side of What Is A Man (Without A Woman)
In contrast to the A-side, What Is A Man (Without A Woman), which was co-written by Lumpkin himself, this B-side features writing credits from no less than four of Motown’s premier songwriting talents, including label owner Berry Gordy Jr., who would spend 1962 gradually finding himself sidelined from the coalface of Motown’s day-to-day creative operations.
(Even his presence on this record’s label is misleading; the song wasn’t a new composition, having originally been written as a (superb) 1959 B-side for one of Marv Johnson’s early United Artists/Motown production crossover hits (You Got What It Takes, itself later covered on Motown by Barrett Strong.) The Miracles had since turned in a tidy version of Don’t Leave Me on their first LP, Hi! We’re the Miracles, which YouTube doesn’t seem to have a copy of. But I digress.)
Although Don’t Leave Me is a fine song, quite what all those songwriters thought about having their names attached to this version is anybody’s guess, because this is pretty uninspiring. (Not poor as such, it has some quite pretty moments – the brushed drums and backing vocals are endearing – but definitely lacking the charm of the previous versions of the song). As performed by Henry Lumpkin, it comes across thin, straightforward and forgettable, a generic R&B romp which might as well have come with a sticker marked “WARNING: Completely Average B-Side” plastered over the label.
(Having said that, Berry Gordy would have had the final say in whether to cut and release this, while Brian Holland and Robert Bateman produced the record and so must have approved – and actually, it sounds like Robert Bateman on the record singing bass anyway – but at some point, a conscious decision seems to have been made to throw away Smokey’s lovely arrangement and instead do something vaguely reminiscent of Lumpkin’s I’ve Got A Notion.)
Perhaps it’s simply a bad match of singer and material. Marv Johnson’s version of this song had been (uncharacteristically) sweet, all soft harmonies, flutes and ethereal, high-pitched strings, and featuring a pleading, heartfelt vocal by Johnson which hinted at depths he hadn’t previously showed even he knew he had. The song’s co-writer, sweet-voiced Smokey Robinson, did his best to emulate Johnson’s performance on the Miracles’ reasonably faithful cover, keeping most of the instrumentation, and it again worked pretty well. Henry Lumpkin’s version dumps the flutes, strings and other musical fol-de-rols, instead opting for a straight R&B attack, including Lumpkin’s scratchy, howling blues vocals.
It ends up uncomfortably wedged between the “soft” lyrics (about the narrator waking up from a bad dream in which the love of his life had walked out on him, lyrics which virtually call for a delivery with tears running down the face, as explicitly mentioned at 1:41) and Lumpkin’s “hard” performance, which changes the context of the song as a result of the rough-textured blues edge in Lumpkin’s voice (making it more of a demand than a plea) and strips it of a lot of its tender beauty (which Henry just can’t do, despite his best efforts).
For sure, it’s nowhere near as good as Johnson’s original, because it just doesn’t suit Henry Lumpkin – who tended to the hot blues end of the R&B spectrum, rather than the sweet soul end where both the original and the Miracles’ cover had come from – and while it’s not a disaster, it’s a clear case of The Wrong Song.
A disappointing waste of both a good song and a good vocalist, paired together wholly inappropriately and satisfying no-one.
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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“What Is A Man (Without A Woman)”
“The One Who Really Loves You”