b/w It Hurt Me Too
(Written by Smokey Robinson)
An unintended side-effect of Smokey Robinson’s remarkable successes producing and writing for Mary Wells during 1962 – including Top Ten hits in The One Who Really Loves You, You Beat Me To The Punch and Two Lovers – was that Smokey, as Motown’s Vice-President, ended up tasked with writing and producing brand-new material for any number of the label’s other female acts, in an ill-starred bid to have the same kind of success.
A foolproof plan on paper, it didn’t really ever work, at least not commercially. Smokey was able to pump out an almost absurd number of strong new songs for his newly-assigned protegées, but no hits emerged on anything like the Mary Wells scale; not with the Supremes, for whom Robinson cut the lovely Your Heart Belongs To Me; not with Linda Griner, whose Goodbye Cruel Love was her one and only Motown single; and not here with white teenage singer Conny Van Dyke, newly-signed (and rechristened “Connie”) in the summer of 1962 and summarily dropped almost straight away.
Miss Van Dyke was a Southerner, like Motown’s previous white female solo turn Debbie Dean, but there the parallels ended. Van Dyke was a model and actress first, and a singer second; winner of a nationwide beauty contest organised by Teen Magazine (and titled “Miss Teen USA”, though the title has no connection with today’s event of the same name), she’d lived in Detroit for around ten years before pitching up at Hitsville for an audition. Recognising Conny had a decent voice (and, doubtless, noting the marketing potential), Berry Gordy signed her to a contract, hoping for great things once Smokey the unstoppable songwriting machine passed a few hit records her way.
Things didn’t quite pan out. Van Dyke managed a handful of recording sessions in the summer of 1962 before her anxious mother apparently pulled the plug, ostensibly worried about her daughter staying out too late, though reading between the lines it seems more than likely Mrs Van Dyke Sr was simply uneasy with the notion of the teen model hanging around at night with a bunch of older black guys. Whatever the reason, Gordy didn’t put up a fuss when Van Dyke asked to be released; young Connie’s contract was promptly terminated, her Motown recording career lasting a little over three weeks.
It’s tempting to romanticise the past in instances like this; speculating over what might have been, rather than what was, well, pretty much *anyone* could have been a contender if things had played out differently. On the evidence of this, though – her one and only Motown single, held back for release until it had been gathering dust for six months – it’s difficult to imagine a world where Connie Van Dyke would become a major Motown force, either artistically or creatively.
That sounds a little harsh, so let me explain. This record’s certainly nice, though it’s more than a little reminiscent of the Supremes’ aforementioned Your Heart Belongs To Me (and even more so the Velvelettes’ cover version a couple of years later; the band and backing vocal performances, both very good here, are rather similar to those on the Velvelettes’ later record).
Meanwhile, Van Dyke herself doesn’t exactly exude star wattage, coming over somewhat anodyne (an unfortunate problem for a young female vocalist when the writer/producer’s CV will immediately lead to obvious comparisons with Mary Wells and Diana Ross); her diction is a bit stagey and precise, lacking in feeling, though her noticeable Southern twang lends a bit of character in places to stop her performance being wholly anonymous.
Really, though, the whole thing is just very ordinary, or as ordinary as a Smokey Robinson Motown record can be. That’s not meant as an insult – it just doesn’t spark anything, doesn’t really ever lift off. Instead, Connie finds her groove and stays there, the song doesn’t encourage her to take any risks, and the end result is both “satisfactory”, and yet vaguely unsatisfying.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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“It Must Be Love”
|Connie Van Dyke
“It Hurt Me Too”