b/w I Remember You
(Written by Ernest Gold and Pat Boone)
Before founding Motown, label boss Berry Gordy Jr. had lost a lot of money in the early Fifties running a Detroit record store, the 3-D Record Mart / House of Jazz, which went bust in 1955 after two years of struggle. Received wisdom has it that the problem with the business was Gordy’s refusal to stock the blues and rock records his customers were looking for, Gordy instead preferring to carry jazz, which he loved but which sold poorly.
Reams of material have been written about how the lessons Berry Gordy learned in this harsh commercial education – never forget the mass market, always make sure the customers get what they want, artistic is not necessarily popular, popular is not necessarily un-artistic, never disappear up your own arse – led directly to the successes enjoyed by Motown a decade later. Nonetheless, Gordy still clearly cherished the dream of being a respected figure in the jazz world, a Name in the “hep” crowd.
To that end, he launched the Workshop Jazz label in 1962, in a belated bid to once again make a success of jazz music. Mindful of his previous failure, the new label would be unmistakeably a jazz label, but with a commercial edge, releasing jazz records with a pop/R&B bent, more accessible than the stuff being released on the pure straight jazz labels, the stuff which had remained on the shelves of Gordy’s old record store while the repo men shuttered the place up. This time, Gordy predicted, things would be different.
Once again, he failed, perhaps without ever quite understanding why. To me, sitting here with the benefit of fifty years’ hindsight, it seems likely that Workshop Jazz was a label serving a niche that no longer mattered to anybody. Jazz aficionados were already well-served with several established labels, and Workshop Jazz never had the credibility to challenge those, nor the promotional muscle to make a dent in their established distributor networks; meanwhile, those listeners who’d enjoyed the freedom and energy of black jazz records, but not the snobbery and tedious trainspottery obsessions that came with them, were now finding their attentions, and record-buying habits, drawn to the burgeoning R&B scene.
The problems are illustrated with this, the very first release on the Workshop Jazz label. Motown A&R chief Mickey Stevenson, tabbed to head up the new label, was a great songwriter and fine producer, but he was no Rudy Van Gelder, and few serious jazz aficionados were likely to rush to the shops to get their hands on a record with a writing credit by Pat sodding Boone, of all people.
Hank and Carol Diamond – about whom no biographical information seems to exist, either in the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 2 or anywhere else – here turn in an astonishing fifth version of this song in a little over two years. Ernest Gold had written the film score to the movie Exodus, and this was the main theme, originally recorded in an instrumental orchestral version in 1960, later covered by easy-listening piano gonks Ferrante and Teicher in a version that racked up big sales to the supper-club set and climbed to #2 pop in 1962. Pat Boone had written lyrics for his own version, when he recorded it as a vocal pop hit in 1961, still heavy on the orchestral flourishes; finally, jazz sax legend Eddie Harris had cut an entire Exodus LP for Vee-Jay that same year, including a superb instrumental jazz rendering of the main theme.
Bafflingly, though, when the time came to launch Motown’s new niche jazz label with a version of Exodus, Hank and Carol Diamond chose to cover Boone’s version, rather than Harris’ far superior cut. The end result is that, save for a coruscating burst of bebop trumpet at the start of the record, and some spirited double bass work towards the end, this is scarcely a jazz record at all; it’s middle-of-the-road pop stuff all the way.
The vocal melody is great, with some surprisingly modern changes to keep the listener onside, but the delivery (handled by both Hank and Carol in a two-handed joint attack) is rather stiff, and a little preppy, a little square – and after listening to Eddie Harris, surely nobody in their right mind would ever choose to buy this version instead. (Even people who weren’t in their right minds, looking for something a little easier and cheesier, had both Pat Boone and Ferrante & Teicher to choose from). The single failed.
Apparently, according to the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 2, Hank and Carol recorded enough “standards and show tunes” to fill a whole LP, but that was never to be; this appears to have been their only release, for Motown or anyone else.
The Workshop Jazz label wasn’t off to a terrific start. (Indeed, it’s a wonder anyone took the label remotely seriously after this kind of launch; in an area of music where credibility and cool were paramount, and in an era when many DJs felt comfortable just looking at a label to gauge the sound of the music contained therein, perhaps forming an association in people’s minds between the Workshop Jazz name and light, smooth, pseudo-jazz MOR material was a dangerous game to be playing.)
The new label would prove to be of most use in persuading the Motown house band, the Funk Brothers, discerning experienced jazz musicians to a man, that they’d get the chance to cut jazz LPs in return for their toiling away on what some of them apparently saw as throwaway pop records, thus keeping them onside for the future. But if Motown saw any future with this sort of thing, they were badly mistaken.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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|Hank & Carol Diamond
“I Remember You”