B-side of You Beat Me To The Punch
Oriole CBA 1762 (B), September 1962
B-side of You Beat Me To The Punch
(Released in the UK under license through Oriole Records)
The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles series credit this song to the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting trio. It turns out that this is almost certainly an error, and that Freddie Gorman should have been named as one of the writers rather than Edward Holland Jr.
To find Freddie still writing with Brian and Lamont so late in the day is interesting. The HDH trio was so prolific in the mid-Sixties, and responsible for so many enduring hits, that it’s almost tempting for modern historians to bestow a kind of Hollywood glow on their rise to fame – Lamont Dozier met the Holland brothers, it was fate, the three clicked immediately, and they set about writing and producing a stream of classic records.
As this B-side shows, the truth was rather more prosaic. The trio didn’t immediately start working together to the exclusion of other former partners like Gorman or Janie Bradford, and there was no immediate leap in quality. While it’s not exactly a clunker, this falls well short of the trio’s later work, as well as the songs written for the Marvelettes by Holland-Dozier-Gorman at around the same time. Certainly it’s not a patch on Mary Wells’ recent work with Smokey Robinson, her “regular” writer/producer at the time.
No, playing this back to back with the A-side, You Beat Me To The Punch, just highlights the gulf in quality and experience that existed in the summer of 1962 between Smokey Robinson and the HDH triumvirate. Where Smokey’s song is deceptively complex, well-judged and perfectly-matched with Mary’s delivery, this B-side sounds like a pale imitation, a pastiche. To make matters worse, there’s a direct lift from the A-side to emphasise the comparison (the “that moment I saw your face / I wished that we could erase” bit is sung to exactly the same tune as the “but I was looking at you so hard / That you must have had a hunch” line from the A-side), and the general feeling is that HDH were simply trying too hard to ape the Smokey-shaped sound with which Mary had found such success.
Indeed, the most lively and entertaining bit of the whole song is the one bit that doesn’t sound like a Smokey Robinson pastiche: the dramatic ending section, featuring the Love-Tones’ backing vocals (“All the pain I caused you”), which ramps up the instrumentation and at least features echoes of the clever, perfect chord changes that producer Brian Holland had started to become known for. On the whole, though, it’s not great.
Mary gamely gives it her best go, but the material, shapeless and meandering, simply doesn’t give her enough opportunity to show off her vocals. It’s almost as if there’s no attempt to make the lyrics scan, or indeed to relate to the music at all; Mary is left doing an almost freeform delivery, something more rooted in the jazz vocal tradition than the R&B/pop perfection her fans were starting to lap up in their droves.
In the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 2, there’s a great quote from Smokey Robinson which illustrates the gulf between the two songs. Quoth Smokey: “I always had people in mind, and I tried to tailor the songs to what I thought they would sound and feel like… I used to even pick words that they would sing well”. The lesson for Holland and Dozier was clear; writing a decent tune wasn’t enough, it had to fit the performer. And this doesn’t, not really.
It’s not terrible or anything, and the central lyrical conceit – Mary asking an ex-boyfriend if he’d like to get back together – is quite sweet, bad scansion notwithstanding. It’s just not up to the standards set either by Mary, by the A-side, or by Holland-Dozier-Gorman themselves (let alone the later glories of the HDH team), and has to go down as a bit of a disappointment. From small acorns, and all that.
Slowed down to roughly half speed, it became a cut on Martha and the Vandellas’ debut LP, Come And Get These Memories (a Holland-Dozier produced record) in 1963, as well as featuring as a future B-side for that group. HDH weren’t finished with the song, either, dusting it off for a late-Sixties remake by the Four Tops (though their version was shelved for 35 years).
This B-side, meanwhile, went through two pressings featuring two distinct versions of the song, both included on The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 2, but I’m buggered if I can tell what the differences are.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- Martha & the Vandellas (January 1964)
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“You Beat Me To The Punch”
“This Is Our Night”