(Written by Clarence Paul)
Here’s a thing. I actually managed to forget this record even existed. It somehow got lost in my memory between two far more memorable singles for the early Supremes, Let Me Go The Right Way and A Breath Taking Guy, to the point where I was momentarily surprised to see it come up in the catalogue.
Even listening to it again today, I wasn’t entirely certain I’d ever actually heard it before, despite the fact I knew I obviously must have done – it was only the chorus that sparked any kind of recognition at all, so little impression does this appear to have made on my subconscious. Which… well, you can probably tell this review isn’t going anywhere particularly good.
The Supremes, mockingly christened “the no-hit Supremes” as they struggled painfully up the lower reaches of the charts with each successive release, lacked direction at this point in time; it was still far from clear what sort of group they were going to be, and they weren’t having a lot of success presenting the public with many different kinds of records while their minds were being made up for them. (Case in point: can you imagine the painstakingly-presented “finished article” Supremes, the mid-Sixties Maxine Powell creations in their gowns and gloves, releasing a record with “Can’t take it no more” in the title?)
They knew they fell behind Motown’s top girl group, the Marvelettes, in the pecking order (and that they were also comprehensively outranked by the big-selling likes of Mary Wells, the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, even the Contours), but it must have been more than a little galling to see Martha and the Vandellas sweeping past them so effortlessly during the course of 1963.
A lot of it was the luck of the draw. The Supremes had been shuffled around almost every top writer and producer in the Motown hierarchy in search of that elusive hit record; Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, all had failed to come up with the (commercial) goods. Now, the Supremes were paired with Clarence Paul, thus far better known in Motown circles for his work with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.
Paul wrote them this song – a doo-wop/country crossover ballad – as part of an ill-conceived album project, The Supremes Sing Country, Western & Pop, pictured left, which then didn’t actually appear for two more years (Motown finally issuing the LP in 1965 at the height of Supremes-mania, figuring the group’s fans would likely buy any old rubbish with their name on it). Meanwhile, at the same time the Supremes were trudging their dejected way through My Heart Can’t Take It No More, the Vandellas were teamed with the newly-formed Holland-Dozier-Holland trio, who promptly wrote them the top 30 classic Come And Get These Memories. Fate can be cruel.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t awful or anything. It’s certainly unique, albeit caught between two stools with its doo-wop piano and country pedal steel guitar each vying to take precedence over the other; utlimately, it’s a nice enough C&W pastiche, and the chord changes in the chorus are appealing. It’s just not a single, never in a million years.
Also, Diana Ross is pitched almost painfully high, and her delivery – which is presumably meant to be filled with emotional pain, as this is lyrically an approximation of a miserable C&W “breakup song” – is shrill and grating (shades of their take on Who’s Lovin’ You a year and a half previously). Flo and Mary’s backing vocals (largely, but not totally, confined to a series of harmony “ooooooh”s) are very pretty, and certainly far more in keeping with the backing track than anything Diana does; but they’re employed in the service of a song that doesn’t really say anything or go anywhere.
A miscue, My Heart Can’t Take It No More ended up becoming the first record by the “no-hit Supremes” to actually miss the pop Top 100 altogether since 1961 (the last time this would happen for twelve years). It’s mostly inoffensive, though that steel guitar and Diana’s vocal test the listener’s patience, but it’s also completely unremarkable – an album filler track with ideas above its station, a strange curio with limited replay value. Certainly it’s difficult to imagine anything that sounds less like a Supremes single, and I’m not surprised I managed to forget it even existed at all.
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!)
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|Martha & the Vandellas
“You Bring Back Memories”