(Released in the UK under license through Oriole Records)
The beginning stages of Marvin’s career provide probably the most interesting story arc of the early years of Motown, and it’s been fascinating to track his development from session drummer and would-be crooner to charismatic, dynamic star. It had taken him the best part of two years to learn some harsh commercial lessons: that the young, affluent crossover (i.e. white) audience he wanted to sell to didn’t exist any more, that teenagers weren’t screaming after crooners, that if he wanted to make it big with that crowd he’d have to get up and dance.
During that time, though, he’d also been on a journey of self-discovery. Marvin’s often petulant, moody nature had a habit of spilling over into pigheaded stubbornness, the young vocalist locking horns with label owner Berry Gordy Jr. far more often than would have ever been tolerated from anyone who wasn’t dating Gordy’s sister, most often over the two men’s contrasting opinions on what direction Gaye’s career would take. Gordy wanted him to become the R&B star he was so obviously born to be; Gaye flatly refused to “shake his ass on stage”, considering Gordy’s plan a stupid idea which was beneath him. This disagreement escalated into a stalemate which saw Gaye sticking steadfastly to his guns, pushing Motown to release all manner of turgid MOR dreck (the nadir being reached in January 1962 with the appearance of his frankly nasty cover of the Chordettes’ Mr Sandman), none of which sold more than a handful of copies. Marvin, setting a pattern for his future years, wasn’t about to back down and admit he’d made a mistake, thus keeping his light hidden under a bushel far longer than was necessary before finally conceding the point.
Even that was something that only happened after Marvin – fed up and broke after a string of flop singles, and with Gordy’s patience wearing thin – had finally deigned to put some effort into making a commercial R&B record to shut the label brass up for a bit and keep the wolf from the door. To nobody’s surprise but his own, Marvin discovered he was not only a talented songwriter, but also – egged on by Mickey Stevenson and Clarence Paul, and nurtured by backing vocalists Gloria Jean Williamson, Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Martha Reeves, later famous as the Vandellas – a phenomenal natural R&B talent. Star quality was in Marvin’s blood, as he’d always felt it obviously was; it was just a different kind of star quality, the type that would lead to millions of sales and two decades of adoration. All that was missing now was a big crossover hit record, and Pride And Joy provided him with it (going Top Ten pop, and a splendid #2 R&B).
To be fair, this couldn’t miss. This is Marvin’s best vocal to date, and if it’s a more straightforward, less beguiling song than his former high water mark (the aforementioned artistic breakthrough of the previous summer, Stubborn Kind Of Fellow, which was also his first charting record), it makes up for it by being almost irresistably catchy; it’s simple, direct, almost frothy, but filled with joy (the title was well chosen), it practically has “hit single” written all over it. Radio, black and white, lapped it up.
The track was written back when Stubborn Kind Of Fellow was still climbing the charts, and recorded in September of ’62 at the same time as the less interesting Hitch Hike (released that December as a follow-up single to Stubborn… and actually outselling it). It’s notable for being Marvin’s first collaboration with young songwriter and future producer Norman Whitfield, who would come to figure prominently in his life later in the decade.
A rollicking piano-led jam, with some remarkable bass courtesy of James Jamerson, Pride And Joy was both a dated piece, and ahead of its time; its boogie-woogie rhythm and circular structure, and its brassy accoutrements, called back to an earlier time when rock and roll ruled the airwaves. On the other hand, while there’s nothing groundbreaking going on here and the track remains almost basic in its simplistic groove, the incorporation of jazz elements alongside the more obvious hints of gospel (the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 have Joe Hunter, who played the tinkling piano that anchors the record, namechecking Wes Montgomery as an influence), the “clean” recording, the superb musicianship, the judicious handclaps, crotchet notes, and that entrancing, bouncing bass… these all look forward to the kind of well-crafted tracks Motown would very shortly come to be known for. Started and finished on the same day (foreshadowing Marvin’s career-long talent for rattling off quality new material once he could be persuaded to actually attend a studio), once in the can Pride And Joy was marked as a keeper, useful to have to hand in the future, something that might make a fine album track, B-side or even a single if new material was in short supply.
But then, an interesting thing happened; as the sales kept rising, and the live fees venues were willing to pay him started going up, and Marvin Gaye moved away from being a lounge club crooner and towards becoming a famous pop star, someone decided that there was still more to come from this song. As first Stubborn Kind Of Fellow and then Hitch Hike became hits, casting Gaye in a decidedly pop/R&B mould for both live audiences and radio listeners, Motown decided to release an album to cash in on his rising popularity.
For the LP, entitled That Stubborn Kinda Fellow, released in the winter of 1962, Marvin’s slightly shaky, plodding original vocal was discarded in favour of a stronger, more confident re-take. When Motown decided to pull Pride And Joy from the album for a single release in the spring of 1963, Marvin went back to the studio again, laying down yet another lead vocal (making at least three different versions that I know of, all over the top of the exact same backing track, and there are probably more of them out there that I haven’t got). Happily, they could stop with the do-overs after this 7″ hit the stores, because this is by far the best lead vocal of the whole bunch.
It’s obvious from the very first line. You are my pride and joy; on the face of it, there’s not much to be done with that, especially as the rhythm and tempo of the song seemingly pretty much compel a singer to go with the flow, landing heavily on the beat. Instead, Marvin grabs the attention with a particularly outlandish delivery; stretching out the first You over several bars, doing the same with Are but dropping down a note halfway through, and then bringing it back upwards again with a similarly elongated my-YY before running through Pride and joy at much quicker speed. Instant hook, just add Martha and Vandellas.
(The girls’ stint in the summer of 1962 as Motown’s house backing vocalists was drawing to a close by the time this was recorded, meaning Marvin – who valued their ability to extemporise, and who fed off their ad-libs for his own performances – had likely needed to specially request their presence at the original session. If so, it was well worth the effort, as they turn in another quite splendid performance. It’s unclear as to whether they were roped in for the remakes, or whether producer Mickey Stevenson just kept their vocals on tape from the first go-around; by the time this 7″ version was cut in April 1963 (less than a month before release!), Martha and the Vandellas had begun their own recording career in earnest and so might well have been too busy to keep revisiting such old territory.)
It’s not complicated, musically or lyrically, but it is the most instant, danceable, fun thing Marvin Gaye had yet created; it’s all but impossible not to start tapping or clicking or nodding along when it starts up, and the call-and-response bits between Marvin and the Vandellas –
(you’re my! Pride and joy! I believe I’m your! Baby boy!)
– get stuck in your head for hours after the record’s finished. Marvin’s really in his element, too, something that simply wasn’t the case on Hitch Hike, alternating between an attractive raspy gruffness and a smoother, Smokey Robinson-style freeform departure from the anchoring backing vocals; put simply, Marvin Gaye, the Marvin Gaye we all know, had arrived.
In doing so, he joined a burgeoning group of Motown artists finding their true voices, the familiar-to-millions mid-Sixties voices, during the spring and early summer of 1963. The hint of desperation heard on Stubborn Kind Of Fellow has been replaced with an almost cocky confidence, and yet he still manages to sound likeable, even vulnerable, as he puts some real emotion into his delivery. Supposedly, the whole song is a reflection of Marvin’s feelings towards Anna Gordy; you can believe it, too. The off-the-cuff And I’m tellin’ the world just before the verse kicks in sounds like it could have been an ad-lib; he sounds so into what he’s doing, it’s positively infectious. If you’re humming it to yourself as you read this, I bet you’re smiling too.
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!)
Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- Choker Campbell’s Big Band (December 1964)
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