(Written by Devora Brown)
It’s early in the evening one day towards the end of September, 1962. The Temptations’ fourth single, Paradise, is being pressed up (along with a bunch of other new Motown records), ready for signing over to the distributors. The Motown rep who periodically comes to the pressing plant to check the print run notices stacks and stacks of boxes piled up in the corner, all full of seven inch singles.
Casually enquiring as to what’s going on, he’s informed that those boxes contain the complete inventory of the latest Fortune Records single, Mind Over Matter by Nolan Strong and the Diablos. The record was officially meant to have been released by now. It’s been getting some radio play, and indications across Detroit are that it’s going to be big. (For sure, the rep notes to himself, Berry Gordy Jr has remarked loudly and often how much he liked the record, and how he’d previously tried to sign Nolan Strong to Motown, with no success.) But some sort of organisational cock-up has meant that the distributors haven’t been able to get them out yet, so there they all are, still sitting in their boxes, still waiting to be taken away.
The Motown rep nods, makes his excuses, hurries out to a payphone and gets Berry Gordy on the line. Urgent, he says. Fortune have dropped the ball, he explains. The Nolan Strong record’s on the radio, but it’s not in the shops. Nobody can actually buy a copy. The rep doesn’t need to explain any further. Berry gets the point. Berry hangs up without a word. He’s got some calls of his own to make.
Gordy calls A&R. He calls the studio. He calls producer Clarence Paul. Got a top priority mission for you. Drop everything else you’re doing right now. Don’t care what group you cut it on. Just get me the fucking record as soon as possible.
Within five days, Motown has its own cover version of Mind Over Matter recorded, pressed and in stores.
The story wouldn’t have a happy ending for Motown, as someone at Fortune got wind of the ploy and made sure the Nolan Strong record found its way into local stores, where – backed with Fortune’s undivided attention, as opposed than Motown’s need to prioritise its efforts on national chart prospects – it promptly flew off the shelves and became a regional chart-topper, squashing Motown’s competing version before it had had a chance to get started. But it’s illustrative of just how much could be achieved if Berry Gordy wanted it to happen badly enough.
The group Clarence Paul wound up recording Mind Over Matter were the Temptations, who (as noted above) already had a new single lined up; their record was due out on October 1st, and there was no point having two Temptations records out at once cannibalising each other’s sales and damaging the group’s image. The quickly-recorded cover thus went out under an adopted name; enter “the Pirates”.
(The Gracenote CD database, and thus much of the Internet, insists that this group is actually white British novelty rockers Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, but that’s a bad mistake; these are the Temptations, under a stupid name, with Eddie Kendricks on lead).
Despite the haste with which it was recorded, I actually prefer this to the Nolan Strong original; the band are the main reason that this came out so much better, turning in a more muscular performance, with excellent drums and bass, and a strong guitar part that dominates the track, culminating in a lengthy solo halfway through. The vocals are less impressive; Eddie’s high, quavering falsetto is again all over the place, just as it had been on a few of the Tempts’ early performances, and he wanders out of tune with the band quite noticeably at 1:06 (the “I’ll put a spell on you / I’ll put a hex on you” bit); presumably there just wasn’t time to do more takes.
Still, it’s a good song – Berry Gordy was an astute judge alright – and this comes out as a decent single with a strong, driving groove, only denied a chart hit by the circumstances in which it came to be made. It wasn’t selected for inclusion on the grab-bag compilation of loose ends that became the Temptations’ début LP Meet The Temptations two years later, but it’s an important early record by one of Motown’s most important groups nonetheless.
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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|Martha & The Vandellas
“My Baby Won’t Come Back”
“I’ll Love You Till I Die”