B-side of I Did
(Written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart)
And so we finally, finally get to the end of this sustained run of jazz sides. Looking back, I feel a little guilty about dishing out so many low marks – but then I remember, well, I’m not a jazz critic nor a jazz aficionado, and while I’m trying to listen to these things with an open mind, it’s difficult to get out of the “R&B singles” context. I was enjoying working my way through the Motown story, especially at a pivotal time like the spring of 1963, and all these jazz records have come along and interrupted me, for which they may have paid the price: some unduly harsh reviews.
Then I listen to something like Falling In Love With Love, and I’m tempted to go back and give them all one out of bloody ten. Because this, quite frankly, is terrible.
A fast-paced bebop rendition of a Rodgers and Hart standard, this manages to tick pretty much every single box on my list of “Things I Dislike About Jazz Records”. Yep, it’s all here: musicians displaying a complete disregard for staying in tune with each other, but not doing anything even remotely interesting instead, bouncing cheerfully back and forth across the line betwen “virtuoso extemporising” and “unsupervised toddler messing with instruments”; upright bass and drums not being allowed to join in the fun, relegated to keeping strict tempo; shrill, undisciplined vocals masquerading as “free expression”; overindulgent musicians showing off with no regard for the emotional tone or timbre of the lyrics (in which case, why bother with them at all? Why not just cut loose on a hundred different loosely-affiliated covers of I’m A Little Teapot?); a distinct sense that everyone making the record is having more fun than anyone listening to the record.
Fittingly, perhaps, Paula Greer herself – who’d previously turned in three lead vocals of varying quality on Motown singles – isn’t to be outdone, and promptly asserts her authority by becoming the absolute worst thing on her own record. Her vocal here is horrible, losing control of her voice so that words are shouted and screamed in quickfire, no-breath fashion; it’s almost scat in places, and it’s unlistenably bad.
Jazz vocals like this are the Emperor’s New Clothes of music; nobody’s willing to stop sagely nodding their heads, stand up and say “hold on, what the hell? This is awful”, because that’s somehow missing the point. Well, no, it’s not. Female vocalists can do incredible things in the jazz arena, especially if they’ve got a good feeling for the material; it’s not a matter of having to make a choice between aping Sarah Vaughan or Rachelle Ferrell, you can try whatever you want to try, but it is important to know where you’re trying to go with something. Betty Carter is a particularly relevant point of reference with this one – I get the feeling Paula Greer is going for something approaching Carter’s technique here, aiming to make her voice an instrument in its own right, but she can’t control it, gives no expression, conveys no emotion, has nothing to contribute but unrestricted volume. It’s just noise, and it’s no more artistically valid than a crazy bag lady screaming random obscenities in a park and accusing a pigeon of stealing her thoughts, while other people quietly move their kids away from her.
Despite all that, it’s still not even remotely edgy, or challenging (not intentionally anyway); it’s a dated, boring standard given a dull, unintelligent workout, and done poorly with it. Not a good way to draw the curtain on Workshop Jazz Records as a singles label; this is a dispiriting finale for a dead-end frolic on Motown’s part.
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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