(Written by Bert Haney)
Well, this is all very unfair. Here I am, ready to celebrate finally reaching the end of a seemingly never-ending parade of sub-par jazz records, only for Motown’s first release of March 1963 to somehow, somehow, turn out to be even less fun. Come back, George Bohanon, all is forgiven.
Motown’s little-loved Mel-o-dy Records imprint, by now run from Dallas by Al Klein, would go down in history as the company’s ill-fated foray into the country & western market, and the thirteen country singles which follow this one certainly bear out that reputation. However, before we get into any of that, Klein’s first idea for the newly repositioned label seems to have been a vision of some sort of outlet for feeble political comedy records. Firstly, there was the Chuck-a-Lucks’ ghastly Sugar Cane Curtain, a badly misjudged Latin pastiche; and now, there’s this… this… I don’t even know what you’d call this.
Well, I do, I suppose; technically, it’s a “break-in” record (although “abomination”, “crime against nature”, these are equally good labels). This was a weird Fifties and Sixties phenomenon, involving lots of snippets of other hit records (the extracts being short enough to avoid beady-eyed copyright attorneys), laced into an unrelated narrative for comic effect. The standard format is for a straight man (and it nearly always is a man) to deliver his lines, well, straight, posing a series of questions to which the samples form the answers. The “humour”, and I use that term loosely, is derived either from the lyrics quoted being unusually appropriate, or bizarrely (or rudely) incongruous.
Motown had only tried the trick once before – Popcorn and the Mohawks’ interminable Custer’s Last Man, which had featured the extracts being sung anew rather than sampled – but this is roughly a thousand times worse than that. Not only is the incredibly weak “comedy” just deeply, deeply unfunny (although the audible live audience this seems to have been performed for are practically wetting themselves – you can hear them positively splitting their sides after each limp, nonsensical “zinger”), but Haney and Armstrong, a pair of irritating white radio comedians, spend the entire record doing genuinely awful fifth-rate impressions of John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev respectively, adding an atrocious extra layer of unfunny jokes on top of what was an unfunny joke to begin with.
The concept, such as it is, is an off-the-record meeting between Kennedy and Khrushchev taking place in the Kremlin. The only time it ever comes close to raising a smile comes right at the very end, when the two narrators ask Mrs Khrushchev who she finds more attractive than John F. Kennedy, and her response comes via a spliced-in clip of Marcie Blane’s Bobby’s Girl. How much you will enjoy this record can be accurately gauged by whether you’re physically rolling around on the floor right now having read that. Certainly the live audience react as though they’ve just heard the single funniest thing ever said by human beings, literally screaming with laughter; I’m guessing jokes were in very short supply in early 1963 thanks to some kind of national shortage, and people just had to take what they could get. If I could bring myself to do the research properly, I’d go through the whole record and identify what all the samples are, one by one… but my heart’s just not in it. Just take it from me, it’s a disaster, a monstrosity; call it what you will; I’m calling it the worst single Motown ever released.
Strong words, I know. After all, that particular bar has been set at a spectacularly low standard by a whole raft of Motown stinkers already covered (Mickey Woods’ casually racist They Rode Through The Valley, for instance, or the Contours’ howlingly tuneless Funny, or Joel Sebastian’s deeply confusing Angel In Blue, or Eugene Remus’ ear-bashingly cacophonous Hold Me Tight (that’s the one which, apparently, you all don’t think is as bad as I make it out to be – but you’re all wrong), and that’s without even considering the likes of outside contenders like the Supremes’ horrible (He’s) Seventeen). But, and here’s the thing, I feel completely justified in saying that while those are all abysmal records, none of them are as bad as this one.
Oh, enough vitriol. Instead, here’s a true story for you.
You know how sometimes, for comedy effect, a reviewer will casually trash a record by saying “listening to this is worse than having your teeth pulled”, or something? (I know I made a similar point, about cats howling in an alley, when discussing the aforementioned Funny).
Well. A few months ago, I had to go and have a root canal treatment done. This involved your correspondent spending just over three hours in the dentist’s chair, first being stuck with some scarily large needles, and then trying to lay completely motionless, mouth aching as I tried to keep it held open, not daring to move my tongue or to swallow; just sitting there, feeling the buzzing of the drill as the juddering, piercing vibrations ran along my jaw.
Despite being a grown man, I’m absolutely terrified of the dentist (oh, shut up, everyone’s scared of something, and this is mine), and I only agreed to undergo all of this on the condition that I could keep my eyes firmly shut, and have my iPod plugged into my ears to block out all external sounds. I had it on shuffle; I have over 30,000 songs on there, and so shuffle is always a bit of a random grab-bag, but I always enjoy the Russian roulette aspects of not knowing what’s going to come up next, and revisiting old records I haven’t listened to in a while, and playing “guess that tune” with stuff I’ve forgotten. Battery charged, I set it going, put it in my pocket, closed my eyes, and off we went. It was just the sort of distraction I needed, and it was really helping me no end as we grimly poked, prodded and drilled our way into the third hour of treatment.
And then, out of nowhere, up came The Interview (Summit Chanted Meeting) from The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3, and I couldn’t skip it, or take the earphones out, or indeed make the slightest move at all. The only thing I could do was wait it out. Forced to listen, helplessly, as Haney and Armstrong went through their excruciating paces, doing their stupid voices and making their stupid non-jokes, and hearing the stupid audience yukking it up. I found myself thinking about the dental operation going on in my mouth, to try and take my mind off this record. And I thought to myself: I would honestly, cross my heart, prefer to be hearing the drill right now.
It’s official: this record is scientifically proven to be less fun than root canal surgery, and I never, ever want to hear it ever again.
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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“Falling In Love With Love”
|Bert “Jack” Haney & Brice “Nikiter” Armstrong