Motown was positively awash with new signings at the start of 1963, and with new female solo acts in particular. Many of them had just one or two singles released, and were never heard from again. Vocalist and would-be pro swimmer Agatha Weston, a former member of the Wright Specials gospel group (though not featured on their previous Motown single, That’s What He Is To Me), who pitched up at Hitsville in 1962 to demo some songs a friend had written to Eddie Holland, and instead found herself signed up as an artist and rechristened “Kim” for ease of pronunciation, bucked that trend and released no less than ten singles, either alone or in duets with Marvin Gaye, becoming in the process a much-beloved Motown artist. (She also ended up marrying label A&R director William “Mickey” Stevenson, one of this song’s writers, decamping with him to MGM in the mid-Sixties).
For her début release, It Should Have Been Me – listed (incorrectly, according to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3) in many discographies as the B-side – Weston was teamed with young writer/producer Norman Whitfield, later a key figure in the Motown Story, who’d co-written a fine song for the purpose, but apparently found it difficult to harness Kim’s young, untrained contralto voice once she was in the booth.
Indeed, Kim does seem to struggle a little, especially at the start; her voice is already big, deep and impassioned, bearing all the hallmarks of her massive later performances, but it’s still rather rough around the edges here, as though she can’t quite scale things back when the song calls for it. (Also, even though she was actually in her early twenties when it was recorded, she sounds slightly young to be singing these lyrics, but that’s by the by).
But then, colouring inside the lines was never what Kim Weston was about. No. Kim Weston is about standing well back and still being floored by sheer force of expression, beauty, power, the whole package. When the song really kicks up in intensity, she’s absolutely in her element; warming up as the record progresses, she settles into her lead role in thoroughly riveting fashion. Over time, her future husband and her other producers and writers at Motown would learn to provide her with material appropriate to her gifts, culminating in one of my favourite Motown records, Helpless, in 1966.
It’s hard to talk about this song without mentioning the Gladys Knight-shaped elephant in the room; Knight and the Pips’ stirring 1968 rendition was the first version I’d heard, so it’s interesting to come back and hear it at an earlier stage of development, to see Whitfield’s ultra-contemporary ’68 arrangement replaced (or, well, you know what I mean) by a storming early-Sixties girl group sound. It’s still a good song, although I think I’ve probably been spoiled by the Pips’ decidedly superior version.
Of more concern is the record’s length – it’s almost indecently short, just nudging over the two-minute mark before fading out – which is a real surprise, when everything else Motown was releasing was seemingly geared towards the ultimate goal of achieving a “perfect” 2:30-3:00 pop single. This fades out so surprisingly early that I felt almost short-changed – I was just getting into that!. Maybe having already given it both barrels with her delivery, Kim just didn’t have anywhere else to take it.
(It’s perhaps more surprising that the song’s very short duration highlights how little of the story – Kim interrupting her ex-boyfriend’s wedding by impulsively shouting the titular words – is actually contained in the song, especially since the third verse (as featured in Knight’s version) is almost identical to the first verse, but doesn’t quite reprise the same sequence of events, raising the interesting idea that Kim didn’t actually blurt out “It should have been me!”, but is instead imagining what might have happened if she’d been brave enough to do that – something I’d never really considered before…? But I digress.)
Possibly because of that abrupt fade and short playing time, this single wasn’t a hit – until DJs began flipping it over and playing the more forceful, bluesy B-side Love Me All The Way instead, sending the record up the charts as an unexpected first-time-out hit. This, though, is just about the stronger of the two sides.
As well as striking chart gold via the Pips’ rendition, It Should Have Been Me was later a massive Top 5 hit in the UK, in a strange disco-inflected cover by Yvonne Fair – another powerful Motown singer underappreciated in the corridors of Hitsville – on the British Tamla Motown label.
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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“Love Me All The Way”