B-side of Way Over There (1962 re-issue)
The Miracles’ third LP, I’ll Try Something New, came out at the same time as this single in July 1962. The album was true to its title (if not its beautiful title track); it represented something of a departure from the previous two Miracles albums, featuring a clutch of standards and show tunes (Speak Low, On The Street Where You Live, I’ve Got You Under My Skin), plus leads for Claudette and Ronnie as well as Smokey Robinson. None of these were ever considered as single material.
The album also featured several Miracles recordings that had already appeared on singles – as well as the aforementioned I’ll Try Something New itself, the LP also boasted 1961’s What’s So Good About Good-Bye and its B-side I’ve Been Good To You.
This meant that of the album’s ten tracks, there were only two “new” songs with Smokey leads that hadn’t already been used. One of them, This I Swear, I Promise, was a dreamlike, doo-wop tinged ballad number that wouldn’t really do for a single. The other one, if you hadn’t worked it out by now, was this one.
Motown was thus faced with a dilemma. They needed new product to push the new album, but people apparently weren’t crazy about using If Your Mother Only Knew as a single – and the rest of the new LP meant the Tamla sales force had painted themselves into a corner, facing the unappealing prospect of trying to sell a Miracles LP full of material that didn’t sound like the Miracles, plus a load of other material that the group’s fans already owned. The solution – and nobody’s ever put forward a truly convincing explanation as to why – was to reach all the way back to Way Over There, the Miracles’ flop single from the spring of 1960, relegating this song to the B-side.
I can only guess at the reasoning; Way Over There is a great song, among the best of Smokey’s early work, and so perhaps Motown felt that with their increased financial power and marketing muscle they could give the record its rightful place in the charts, albeit two years late. If this was the plan, then Motown’s ploy didn’t really work – the single went to number 94, the Miracles’ weakest chart placing since the record’s original pressing had failed to chart two years previously.
Some good did come out of this, though. For starters, this is a good song, and it’s probably only fair that it got to spend a bit of time in the sun away from the LP, even if it was only as a B-side. From the short, stabbing string stings that open the record, this is another sumptuously-arranged orchestral midtempo number that announces its quality, and it features some truly excellent guitar driving proceedings along throughout.
It sounds great, and if the lyrics aren’t on the same level as some of Smokey’s other work in 1962, they’re still endearingly sweet – the title made whole by the first line, If your mother only knew / How much I really care for you – as our narrator works to win over his girlfriend’s unimpressed parents. There’s no clever wordplay, no really outstanding lines, but it’s the most universal lyrical theme Robinson had employed since Everybody’s Gotta Pay Some Dues and just as easily-grasped.
Meanwhile, Smokey the vocalist is also on fine form, his superb falsetto again swooping around in the roof of his range and forming pleasingly intricate lattices of harmony with the other Miracles (especially in the lovely coda). The sheer depth of feeling he puts into some of the lines here –
– the first “Oh, baby, baby / I’m sure that if she really knew / How much I really cared for you / She’d say: “my son / I’m going to give her to you” bit, for instance –
– is again enough to bring on goosebumps.
The other big benefit of the song being used on a single was that it highlighted a flagrant error of judgement from the mixing stage; initial copies of the record held a version of the song which featured a really, really loud and obtrusive guiro (gourd) percussion effect that overshadowed everything else, including the pretty strings and splendid guitar playing.
You can kind of see what they were going for (“something new”, perhaps), but it doesn’t work, and it’s to Motown’s credit that this was admitted. The single was quickly withdrawn and the offending mix replaced with a new version that minimised the guiro, and it’s this new version which wound up on the album. I don’t know if any copies of the LP were ever pressed with the original mix, but that version can still be heard on The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 2.
Too good to be thrown away as either an album track or a B-side, quite frankly, as it might have made one of the better early Miracles singles – but its presence on this reissue at least lets me talk about it at length. Hurrah for commercial pressures!
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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|The Wright Specials
“Pilgrim Of Sorrow”
“If It’s Love (It’s Alright)”