B-side of Little Water Boy
(Written by Clarence Paul)
Considerably less horrific than the A-side, and something of a relief. This is a virtually instrumental dancer, not much more than a glorified jam session, but plenty of fun, and even if it’s not really all that strong on its own merits, the context makes it a highly likeable breath of fresh air.
It mainly acts as a showcase for Stevie’s drumming; he opens the track by beating out a warlike pattern on the tom-toms before settling into a groove, augmented throughout by handclaps and tambourine; he changes things up on numerous occasions, going through two energetic drum solos very much in the style of Benny Benjamin’s skin-pounding on Congo by the Twistin’ Kings, as well as slowing things down for a lengthy mid-song sax break at 1:12 that changes the whole feel of the song; meanwhile, prominent guitar and horn parts keep things driving along. It’s all quite entertaining, even if (like the A-side) there’s still no sign of Stevie’s harmonica.
The big hook, of course, is in the title, Stevie singing it call-and-response with the backing singers; the energy he draws from the repetition would be put to better use the following year on his breakthrough number one pop hit Fingertips.
Which isn’t to say that this one is as good as that one. It’s great fun while it’s playing, and the “La La La La La”s get stuck in your head, but it’s a simple tune and it’s pushed just about as far as it can go by the time the record ends; I mean, you can sort of imagine Stevie stringing this out into an eight-minute live jam, but you also get the sense it might get a bit dull, for Stevie as well as the audience. Whether it would have done well as a single is another question – I think it might, it’s certainly catchy and quirky enough to have picked up some airplay, but being squashed under the lumpen lead weight of the A-side Little Water Boy probably killed it.
This song wasn’t forgotten, though – it formed a key part of Little Stevie’s live repertoire for years, and Los Angeles group the Blendells recorded a cover version of the song in 1964, featuring more lyrics and horns, and sticking to just the one tempo. Whether this was based on Stevie’s live performances I don’t know, but the Blendells’ record was a national hit. Motown, stung at having let a hit slip out from under them, countered in an uncharacteristically slow fashion; the LaSalles covered the Blendells’ version of the song for VIP in 1965, but it was too late and that record tanked too. By then, of course, Stevie had long since moved on.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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|Little Stevie Wonder & Clarence Paul
“Little Water Boy”
“Strange I Know”