b/w Jealous Lover
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
b/w Jealous Lover
(Released in the UK under license through Oriole Records)
By common consent, Motown enjoyed a critical and commercial “Golden Age” in the mid-Sixties, coinciding roughly with the rise to power of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team, the creative peak of Smokey Robinson, and a run of massive, brilliant hits from the likes of the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops… and the first of Motown’s big mid-Sixties acts to attain stardom, Martha and the Vandellas.
This was only the group’s second single with Martha Reeves on lead, and already they were bouncing up the charts, neatly swapping places with the Marvelettes to become Motown’s top female group. Listening to Come And Get These Memories back-to-back with the Marvelettes’ Locking Up My Heart, written by the same hotshot new writing trio, produced by the same producers, recorded in the same studio, played by the same musicians, and cut just ten days prior to this (and released only a week before this, too, as a matter of fact), the difference is nothing short of staggering.
Because nobody ever chooses Locking Up My Heart as the beginning of the label’s Golden Age, or the starting-point for the mythical “Motown Sound”. Both of those things have been said about Come And Get These Memories – and said often, and by people who should know (Berry Gordy and Lamont Dozier, among other respected judges).
How true that is is open to debate, of course. In turn: it’s almost impossible to pinpoint a dividing line between “classic era” Motown and what came before and after; the “Motown Sound” is hard to define, and the development of a recognisable musical style wasn’t something that was just switched on overnight one day, this record simply marking another step along the way; this record wasn’t that big a commercial hit (#6 R&B, Top 30 pop), and it’s only one of a whole clutch of records from now until mid-1964 that could legitimately claim to mark the true start of Motown’s “Golden Age”, with any number of other perfectly valid candidates to choose from depending on personal preference (e.g. the Supremes’ Where Did Our Love Go, Martha and the Vandellas’ own Heat Wave, Stevie Wonder’s Fingertips (Part 2), Mary Wells’ My Guy, the Temptations’ My Girl…)
But really, it doesn’t matter. It is the first Motown record that instantly sounds like a Motown record, which is good enough for me – but ultimately, being a Motown fan is all about great records, not drawing arbitrary lines in the sand. And this is a great record – let’s get that straight right now, before any more trainspottery nonsense about whether this record – this excellent, extraordinary, alive pop record – is, or isn’t, the start of something bigger.
It’s not great just because all the Motown hallmarks are here in kernel form (although that is pretty fantastic, don’t get me wrong), but because it’s a really well-judged, well-made pop single, with a basket of hooks and a heartbreaking lyric delivered over an irrepressibly upbeat tune (another Motown hallmark, mainly peculiar to HDH compositions).
It’s almost shockingly good, this. There hadn’t been an awful lot wrong with Martha and the Vandellas’ only previous outing in that guise, I’ll Have To Let Him Go, but this is in a different league.
To the music first, because that’s where everyone goes first with this one. Come And Get These Memories really does have a little bit of everything Motown would come to stand for. It’s described in the liner notes for The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 by Lamont Dozier, its principal composer, as “a mixture of all those musical elements – gospel music, pop, country and western, and jazz”; I’ll come to the tune itself later, but the way it’s performed is what’s drawn historical interest. It’s a great band performance, built around a steady, syncopated jazz-inspired drumbeat, 4/4 rhythm and excellent fills, with an unhindered, free-range bass line that can’t be bothered to simply shadow the main line. The top attraction for the musicology tourists, though, is the use of tiny crotchet “chinks” of piano and guitar on the beat, a technique that more than anything else instantly identifies a record as a Motown production. There’s other “Motown” stuff going on, too – handclaps, horn breaks, backing vocals so perfect and so right they fall on the good side of obvious, the “I would have never thought of that, but it’s brilliant!” side – and the overall impression is a great leap forward, a missing link filled in so that (for the first time, really) you can easily tell how we got from there to here.
But that’s what makes this a great band track. What makes this a great pop record is Martha Reeves, Rosalind Ashford, Annette Beard, and the song they set about building sixty storeys high.
As mentioned earlier, the tune isn’t a million miles away from Locking Up My Heart, the song HDH had done with the Marvelettes the previous week – it shares a very similar tempo and rhythm, a very similar “rom-ba-bom-ba-bom-ba-bom” attack before the verses, even some shared lyrical sentiments to drive home the similarities. But everything about this is on a different level to the Marvelettes’ record. From the intro – the three Vandellas delivering the opening line (and the song’s de facto chorus), Lover, you’ve gone from me, and left behind… so many memories over a cod-military drum flourish – the evolution in songcraft is obvious.
The evolution in performances from the Vandellas’ previous single, I’ll Have To Let Him Go, which began with a similar intro, is also obvious. On that record, Martha gave a deep, smoky, bluesy lead delivery, starting out in the mould of Mary Wells before finding her own voice, and salvaged some weak backing performances by the other Vandellas. On this record, everyone is much more in tune with each other, in every sense. Martha’s lead is feistier and yet at the same time more vulnerable, more full of character, spunkier, poppier; it’s less technical than I’ll Have To Let Him Go, Martha almost half-speaking some of her verse lines, but it’s enthralling. She’s becoming a star, after just one record, and she probably knows it too. She’s aided and abetted by Roz and Annette doing some quite brilliant work on backing vocals – the softly cooed Ooh-ooh-oohs, and the call-and-response Come and get ’em!s, and the repeated Since you’ve gone / Out of my life interjections, are what make this record. Well, that and the lyrics.
Man, the lyrics. This is also the first great lyric from Eddie Holland, only recently recruited into Dozier and Brian Holland’s songwriting team as a wordsmith. It starts out defiant – a very clever, unique idea, Martha the narrator chucking out all the stuff her ex-boyfriend gave her, and telling mister to come and collect it all, because she doesn’t want any of it any more (Lamont Dozier claims to have come up with the line Here’s that old teddy bear… as part of an intended C&W pastiche), and the title works on two levels, asking her ex to both take away the physical things that remind her of him and, by extension, obliterate the memories themselves. The imagery is surprisingly evocative, spinning a thoroughly convincing tale of a long relationship, a relationship in which Martha’s character clearly invested a lot of time and emotion, with very little actual detail supplied. It’s also lots of fun – Martha throws out, in order, his old friendship ring (she can’t wear it no more), his old love letters (she can’t read ’em any more), an old teddy bear he won for her at the state fair, some old Valentine cards (has there ever, in the history of pop, been a more perfect line than Here’s some old Valentine cards – give them to your new sweetheart!? The economy of it, the sheer skill in saying everything that needs to be said, summing up the entire first half of the song in ten words, you just have to applaud. But I digress); and then, finally, after an instrumental break (I always thought that was clever positioning), their old favourite record.
But this is where everything changes. With all the rest of the baubles and tchotchkes Martha’s throwing out, she’s almost nonchalant about it – I can’t wear it, I can’t read them, give these to someone else please. With their old favourite record, something they shared together, it’s not that she can’t hear it any more – her phrasing changes, and instead I can’t stand to hear it any more. Before the listener’s had a chance to assimilate this, Martha immediately drops another bombshell, which changes the entire subtext of the song:
Here’s some old lingering love
It’s in my heart, and it’s tearing it apart
I remember when I first heard that, I actually had to sit down. She’s not over him at all. She’s actually still crushed by him walking out, and all of this trashing of formerly treasured possessions is an exercise in putting on a brave face that’s probably hurting her more than she dares admit.
Because of these memories, I can’t think of anybody but you / So come on and get ’em, because I’ve found me somebody new…
Of course, he can’t take away the memories, much less the “lingering love”, and him taking back the other stuff she’s offering won’t make a difference. She’s not enthused by this new guy (if he even exists), she needs her ex back, even though she doesn’t want him and knows she can’t have him. Shades of Martha’s desperate pleading with her heart not to fall for a man in Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone four years later, except that there’s even more layers to this. Ms Reeves is so convincing here, like Mary Wells on the similiarly well-acted You Beat Me To The Punch, that she is the character, and once you’ve heard the end of the record, it casts the beginning in a whole different light; it’s still defiant, but a different kind of defiant, not ready to move on but moving on anyway because there’s nothing else to do but make the most of it. It’s all so cleverly-done – it’s never pity-me mawkish, it’s still a good-time stomping tune, because we’re now joining in along with Martha in the “wash that man right out of my hair” exercise; we’ll help her move the stuff out of her house, because that’s what she needs right now, and that’s what friends do, and that’s what this record is like.
Man, this is such a good record. I think I’d love it even without the tune, and the band, and the backing vocals, even if it was just Martha and some guys with a jug and a washboard. But it actually comes wrapped in a beautiful, landmark Motown performance, everyone involved at the top of their game. Going in, I was going to give this a 9, because brilliant as it is, I don’t think it’s quite as brilliant as Heat Wave, and I thought I should leave room for improvement – but I’m having so much fun listening to this again that, well, sod it, and to hell with relative marking.
If 1962 had belonged to the Marvelettes, then 1963 would belong to Martha and the Vandellas; this single marked them out not only as worthy recipients of the Marvelettes’ baton as Motown’s number one group, but one of the best new pop groups in the world, full stop.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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