After the godawful novelty horrors of “Little” Stevie’s previous single, the atrocious Little Water Boy, Motown must have realised something was wrong, that their master plan for the “12 Year Old Genius” of their creation had so far resulted in two resounding flop singles and a slew of bad reviews.
What to do about it? Stevie did have something about him, that much was obvious, and he could whip live audiences into a frenzy – live audiences who weren’t old ladies going “Awww!” and cooing over the “adorable singing blind kid” schtick, but teens who just wanted to dance. Perhaps after two novelty singles playing up the kiddie angle, then, Motown decided to treat him like some of their older acts. The Marvelettes, most of whom weren’t that much older than Little Stevie, had recently cut a string of absolutely cracking tracks under the supervision of the maturing production team of Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier; the duo were therefore enlisted to create a new single for Stevie, something that wouldn’t patronise him or his listeners. Together with their new writing partner Janie Bradford, the trio knuckled down to their task and came up with by far Stevie Wonder’s best A-side to date.
The first thing you notice listening to this is a 4/4, four-on-the-floor handclap beat exactly the same as that featured on the Supremes’ magnificent breakthrough Where Did Our Love Go (another Holland-Dozier production, of course) 18 months later.
Contract On Love isn’t as “clean” as that record – it’s cluttered, fussy, and there’s too much going on, while the lyrics are much harder to grasp – but it’s the first of Stevie’s singles which actually sounds like a Stevie Wonder record, the young vocalist (who again, disappointingly, doesn’t get given the chance to play harmonica on this, but never mind) clearly relishing the opportunity to cut loose. If his reedy, pubescent voice grates in places (and readers of this blog will already be aware that I don’t cut poor vocals slack “because aww, he’s only twelve”), the building blocks for the strong leads he’d turn in on his later mid- and late-Sixties hits are definitely there, and his harmonies on the high parts work well enough; his enthusiasm compensates for some of his technical shortcomings.
Meanwhile, the band (especially bass and keys) are on absolutely sparkling form, and the backing vocals (unidentified on the label – are these the Love-Tones?) form an engaging blend with the band, if not the lead singer.
It all adds up to an enjoyable record, hardly a classic single but a vast improvement on what had come before. It was still very early days for both writers and singer, and there was much better to come from both, but this was at least a step in the right direction.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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“Hello There Angel”
|Little Stevie Wonder