(Written by Berry Gordy)
(Released in the UK under license through Oriole Records)
As we arrive at the tail-end of 1962, the time had come for the Contours to attempt to follow up their mega-hit, Do You Love Me, released five months earlier.
The group was at a crossroads here in terms of how America (and posterity) would go on to receive them. Could they rack up a string of hits and become an enduring and bankable Motown act? Or were they simply a bunch of chancers who’d got incredibly lucky one time, and already shot their bolt?
The suspense didn’t last long, and it wasn’t good news. Despite the promise of their rollicking Motown début, Whole Lotta Woman, it’s really rather difficult to argue, in the light of this and the other singles they released after their brief moment in the sun, that the Contours – and particularly this line-up of the Contours – were anything more than an energetic, happy-go-lucky stage act who happened to bottle lightning just one time, striking it very rich with a one-off hit single, a flash in the pan.
Still, the attempt to do it again is kind of fascinating, in a watching-the-cogs-turn sort of way. Even if it’s not very good. (Because neither of the two sides of this single is very good, it must be said. Let’s get that out of the way now.)
Both sides of this, the Contours’ follow-up single, were written and produced by Berry Gordy – just like Do You Love Me had been – and both take a different approach to the concept of the “soundalike sequel”. Later, this would become a singular Motown quirk – very rarely was a Motown artiste allowed to have a hit single without being made to cut a follow-up that adhered strictly to the same formula as their hit – but the practice was still in its infancy here, having previously had a couple of commercially-unsuccessful trial run-outs with Barrett Strong and the Miracles. This, though, was meant to be different; for the first time, Motown set out to emulate a previous success, nakedly and mechanically. The Contours had previously shown they were uncomfortable doing anything outside their natural environment, the raucous dance hall smash (see, for instance, their genuinely horrible attempt at a group harmony ballad, Funny), so it wasn’t just a case of art taking a back seat to sales – but the brief was clear. The public had loved Do You Love Me, so all Motown had to do was isolate the defining ingredient in its success, reproduce it, and count the money as it burst forth from the company’s engorged coffers.
There was a problem with the plan, though. Do You Love Me had been thrown together spontaneously, with great haste and little preconception. Originally intended for the Temptations, the song’s possibilities and potential had so enthused and excited Berry Gordy that he’d grabbed the nearest group and cut it on them instead, right there and then, before any momentum was lost. That giddy, joyful rush infuses Do You Love Me, the rock solid certainty that a hit record was being made becoming a self-fulfilling prediction.
However, sitting down coldly to sketch out a soundalike sequel was another kettle of fish; on this evidence, Berry Gordy didn’t actually know what the magic ingredient had been. The result was two different songs, this and its B-side, both attempting to recapture the groove, joy and sales of Do You Love Me by shamelessly trying to photocopy something good from the previous record.
As a result, this single ended up as a kind of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde version of Do You Love Me, as if that song had somehow been magically separated out into two different songs, Shake Sherrie (spelled “Sherry” on some label pressings) and You Better Get In Line, split across the two sides of this single, each side containing only half of the vital elements that had made the original a hit, each fatally incomplete without the stuff that’s been extracted.
On this side, then, we get a reprise of the frenetic “party” atmosphere, the dance-centred lyrics, the ascending Twist And Shout break, the false ending, and the weird “Glum glum glum glum” throat noises, but we’re lacking the spoken-word intro, the driving, pulsating beat, and the actual harmonies from that record, most noticeably lacking from the ascending break that made Do You Love Me so riveting.
(They’re replaced by a really awful shouty bit – Dance to the east, dance to the west / Dance to the one that you love the best, followed by a very rough call-and-response “comedy” section where each of the Contours asks in turn Is it me?, and the others shout back “No!”, which lasts only a few seconds but seems to drag on for many painful minutes.)
Indeed, the vocals here are really just a load of faintly discordant shouting, and you’d be hard-pressed to identify any of it as “singing” in any real sense; Billy Gordon’s lead vocal is delivered with more of an eye on live audiences than the record, to the point he becomes something more akin to an MC, or even a toaster, than a lead vocalist. He sounds like he’s having fun, leading the crowd along rather than bothering with anything so prosaic as harmonies, and that might have worked if the rest of the Contours had been able to provide good vocal backup – but since they’d already shown they couldn’t really do that, instead they’re all just shouting too. For a dumb party record, it’s also got far too many words for its own good, although Billy chews on them in a barely-intelligible growl that causes a good quarter of them to be lost in the mix.
The group themselves seem to be having a good enough time – more so than their listeners, I dare say – but there’s always the nagging Beach Boys Party! feeling that the fun might be manufactured, that this is actually a studied exercise in recreating something spontaneous and instinctive. Knowing that was Motown’s intention, even if the group’s own enthusiasm is genuine, certainly takes a bit of the shine off for me – but there wasn’t much there to begin with.
The song isn’t good, the performances aren’t good, and whatever had been magical about Do You Love Me, it’s missing here; this is just a stupid dance record, and not even a fun one at that.
The record didn’t bomb completely (it limped to number 43 pop, just missing the R&B Top 20), but neither did it achieve anywhere near the hoped-for success, and the Contours’ very brief time as a front-line Motown recording act was already drawing to a close.
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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“You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”
“You Better Get In Line”