Motown RecordsMotown M 1039 (AA), February 1963

b/w Laughing Boy

(Written by Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy)

BritainOriole CBA 1829 (B), May 1963

B-side of Laughing Boy

(Released in the UK under license through Oriole Records)

Scan kindly provided by Gordon Frewin, reproduced by arrangement.  All label scans come from visitor contributions - if you'd like to send me a scan I don't have, please e-mail it to me at fosse8@gmail.com!Originally issued as a B-side, this cover of a 1961 Barrett Strong flipside ended up cracking the charts in its own right (scraping in to the Hot 100 at… well, number 100, but it still counts, right?), becoming Mary Wells’ first double-sided hit in the process.

Superior to both Strong’s original, and to her own A-side here, Laughing Boy, this really is excellent. Unlike the strange, beautiful but somehow ill-suited ethereal high notes of the A-side, here Mary is back in the blues groove she’d started out in, grittier, throatier and less polished than her recent pop chart outings. (I don’t know when this was actually recorded, so it could date from before she started to hit big with the likes of The One Who Really Loves You – it’s certainly more of a raw delivery than any of her previous Smokey-produced sides).

The band are excellent, as they had been on Strong’s rendition. Their performance here moves away a little from the slow, smoky blues jam of the original, and towards more of a jazz-pop feel (check out the great horn flourishes) – but it’s a great decision, as Mary takes the song as though it was written especially for her.

Barrett Strong had drained the lyrics of much of their punch, but Mary brings them out splendidly; the narrator, mired in an especially unhealthy relationship, having been caught cheating on her partner, now urges him not to compound her mistake by breaking up with her (or cheating on her in retaliation). She sells it wholly convincingly, a timely reminder of her skill in bringing “story” songs to life; regardless of when it was recorded, coming as it does on the heels of a pair of rather insincere-sounding Wells performances (Two Lovers, Operator), it packs a surprising emotional punch.

If this was hardly an avenue that Mary Wells’ future career could follow, it’s still a very fine record, and well deserving of its (very brief) time in the chart sun.



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Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:

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Mary Wells
“Laughing Boy”
The Chuck-A-Lucks
“Sugar Cane Curtain”