b/w It Must Be Love
(Written by Berry Gordy)
b/w It Must Be Love
(Released in the UK under license through Oriole Records)
Have you ever wondered what the exact point where a great songwriter completely ran out of ideas might sound like? Wonder no more.
Berry Gordy Jr., founder and owner of the Motown empire, had been a vitally important songwriter and producer in the early days, penning any number of the nascent label’s earliest hits. Throughout 1961, and even more so in 1962, he’d found himself increasingly sidelined from the creative operations, the growing fortunes of the company necessitating Gordy spending less time in the studio and more time in his office. By 1963, he was all but done as a songwriter; there would be occasional flashes of former glory throughout the Sixties and early Seventies, when inspiration struck (e.g. Brenda Holloway) or when a project particularly enthused him (Chris Clark, the CorporationTM, late-period Diana Ross & the Supremes), but his name would appear on less and less records, much less hit records, as the decade went on. This can’t have been easy to take for Gordy, an intensely proud man, but he had better writers working for him now, and he was needed elsewhere. Posterity would give him Lonely Teardrops, Money (That’s What I Want), and – of course – the Contours’ Do You Love Me, which brings us to this.
The result of Gordy’s reassessment of priorities, and the subsequent sidelining of the boss as an active front-rank Motown writer, was that a lot of the stuff he did find time for fell very far short of his best. The Contours were a case in point. Something of a pet project for Gordy, their big breakthrough with Do You Love Me must have been a source of immense personal pride, but it quickly became clear that these guys weren’t sensitive, intelligent interpreters of clever, nuanced material (not like the Temptations, who’d performed miracles with Gordy’s best song, (You’re My) Dream Come True); these Contours were dancers, rough and ready, able to whip live audiences into a screaming frenzy. And what those live audiences wanted, really, was Do You Love Me, which this group had pretty much perfected, and which they wouldn’t ever be able to top. You can almost hear Gordy wondering: what was the point in trying anything different?
And so, having already pumped out two Do You Love Me soundalikes in “Shake Sherrie” and “You Better Get In Line” – which had performed relatively disappointingly on the charts, considering the company’s high expectations – Gordy sat down again to write a soundalike follow-up, going back to the Do You Love Me blueprint even more slavishly, to the point that this is just an embarrassing retread. He clearly couldn’t be bothered any more, and audiences could tell; this limped to number 64 pop, and the Contours’ days as a headline chart act were over.
(It also failed to chart in Britain, where Motown’s UK licensee Oriole had seen Do You Love Me gazumped by a white British group, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, who’d taken their version of the song to Number One before the Contours could get off the starting blocks; Oriole had subsequently been eagerly and promptly releasing everything the Contours did, in the hope of picking up follow-up sales that never materialised.)
It really is transparently cynical, though, and badly done with it. Don’t Let Her Be Your Baby opens with another spoken-word intro: an awful, nasal-sounding delivery where one Contour patently recites from a script, and recites ineptly with it, as though English isn’t his first language – presumably intended as a reflection of the outlandish pronunciation of “You didn’t EVEN / Want me around. And now, I’m Back! To let YOU know” on Do You Love Me – but while on that record it had been charmingly strange, here it just falls horrendously flat, resulting in an awkward, tenth-rate amateur-dramatic feel: Look, I am tellin’ you…as a FWEND, because I think, you’re. So… nice. I really think a lot of YOU. Now, you can let her wear yer PIN you can let her be yer FWEND. But remember – what – ever – you – do.” It’s dreadful.
Things don’t pick up from there. As with the two previous follow-up attempts, the infectious, giddy energy from Do You Love Me has been entirely lost, replaced with a mechanical, soulless attempt to get lightning to strike again. All the ingredients are there, in a dutiful exercise in box-ticking: the same tempo (tick!), the same call and response structure (tick!), the Twist And Shout ascending open-chord bit in the chorus (tick!), to the point that it’s basically the same song.
Also, where Do You Love Me was hopeful, aspirational, happy, winning the listener over to the Contours as they tried to win over their girl, here they just come across nasty, spiteful, even misogynist, the narrator telling an unspecified “fwend” – casting us, the listener, in that role – that our new girlfriend (who just happens to be the narrator’s ex) is bad news, and so we’d better dump her quickly so that the narrator can get back in. With the unbelievably bad amateur dramatics of the spoken intro, we’re left in no doubt whatsoever that the narrator doesn’t give a stuff about our welfare, and is just being a first-class dick. It might have worked as a character piece – there could have been some knowing smirks in there, especially on the If you agree, send her back to me bit, as the narrator played a sleazy lothario, or there could have been some biographical detail laid on to tell a real story – but the Contours are the worst actors in the Motown stable, and this just comes across as the Contours themselves being unpleasant. Quite a commercial misjudgement.
(Berry Gordy wasn’t alone in thinking it could still sell, though – the Del-Rays turned in a cover for Stax Records in 1964, making this one of a positively tiny handful of Jobete tunes to cross the great divide and get a Stax/Volt release).
It’s not a terrible record – it shares a lot of the rhythm and danceability of Do You Love Me – but it is mean-spirited, cynical and completely pointless, and so the fact this isn’t getting one out of ten shouldn’t be construed as any kind of recommendation.
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.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in The Contours? Click for more.)
“I’ll Make It Up To You Somehow”
“It Must Be Love”