b/w Beechwood 4-5789
B-side of Beechwood 4-5789
(Released in the UK under license through Oriole Records)
Lamont Dozier hadn’t long arrived at Motown when he was partnered with Brian Holland, the two young writers finding they had very similar ideas on chords and melodies, and quickly striking up an almost telepathic songwriting relationship.
As tunesmiths, Holland and Dozier had few equals – but they lacked a capable lyricist. Within a year, the trio would be rounded out by Brian’s older brother, Eddie, but in 1962 Eddie Holland was busy plugging away at a solo career as a vocalist. Instead, the role was initially filled by Freddie Gorman, the Motown writer and future Originals singer best known as the “singing mailman”, who’d already had a Motown solo release of his own (the deep, smoky The Day Will Come in October 1961), and who claimed to have introduced Brian and Lamont to each other, before being squeezed out due to his work commitments with the postal service.
One of the first big songwriting jobs for the Holland-Dozier-Gorman trio was to provide strong new material for the Marvelettes’ third LP, Playboy, which was recorded throughout May 1962. No expense was to be spared, with Mickey Stevenson, Smokey Robinson and even company president Berry Gordy Jr. also contributing songs to the project; Holland, Dozier and Gorman between them provided six new songs, three of which wound up on the album, with two more held back to appear on the follow-up LP The Marvelous Marvelettes the following year, and a sixth, I Know His Name (Only His Name) (which sounds very much like an early draft of Martha and the Vandellas’ remarkable Heat Wave) later re-recorded by the Velvelettes.
This lovely ballad, one of the earliest songs written by the trio, is one of the standout tracks on the Playboy album. Originally tabbed as the B-side to the raucous, throwaway fun of the chosen single, Beechwood 4-5789, the song quickly gained momentum and took on a life of its own, crashing the R&B Top 10 and becoming Motown’s second double-sided hit in the process.
Deservedly, too. This is just beautiful; heady, romantic stuff, a tale of teenage sexual yearning sung wonderfully by Gladys Horton (who was quickly becoming one of Motown’s most capable female leads). The storyline is a daring one for the era, and features Gladys telling her man (either directly to his face, or in an “open letter”-type soliloquy – it works really well either way) she wants to sleep with him, but will only give up her virginity when she’s completely convinced he won’t dump her afterwards; shades of Mary Wells’ I Don’t Want To Take A Chance, only even more explicit. Yet this all sounds so aspirational and full of hope in Horton’s hands (augmented by some sterling backing vocals from the other Marvelettes in one of their best performances to date) that it’s easy to miss the sexual aspect altogether on first listen. Indeed, the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 2 feature a wonderful opening essay from Gerald Early in which he admits he initially took the song to be a paean to black empowerment.
But even when you work out what it’s actually about, it’s never tacky or sensationalist; it’s true to life and it’s mesmerising. Gladys is truly captivating here, in probably her best vocal performance yet, and her delivery of the song’s best line (You won’t take advantage of me / Capture my heart, and set me free) is enough to melt hearts. Meanwhile, the band are on splendid form, too, the record opening with a burst of vibrato organ which sets the tone straight away, the atmosphere later built up with some great plucked guitar and perfectly-judged drums, while there are frequent stops and bursts of silence that just fit the song absolutely right. I love it.
This is one of the best records the Marvelettes ever made, and it simply couldn’t have been left hidden away on the album (indeed, it’s legitimate to wonder why this wasn’t the A-side in its own right). With its release on this single, Motown’s first great girl group cemented their place as one of the best groups in America, growing up in public, finally fulfilling the promise of their début Please Mr. Postman. Magnificent.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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“You Beat Me To The Punch”