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Mel-o-dy RecordsUNRELEASED – scheduled for Mel-o-dy 108 (A), April 1963

b/w I’ll Go Anywhere

(Written by Freeman Cowgar)


At the time of writing, we’re now into the first days of 2011. Time marches on, and more and more great records fall behind the “Fifty years ago today…” mark. Just as Money (That’s What I Want) disappears further into the rear view mirror (it’ll be 52 years old in a few months’ time), so it will soon be the turn of Please Mr Postman.

It’s funny, because that fifty year benchmark works as a kind of rolling barrage of history for me to try and keep ahead of; I’d better get cracking and make up for lost time, as some of these records deserve a properly considered moment in the sun before they turn 50.

Some of them probably don’t deserve that recognition, of course, but then this is the paradox of Motown Junkies; everything gets covered. Everything. And I’ve been doing this, rather unbelievably, for a year and a half now, during which time we’ve seen hidden gems, deservedly obscure turkeys, fascinating curios and knockout pop classics, all well before we get anywhere near what most casual Motown fans would regard as the label’s heyday, the mid-Sixties Golden Age and the late-Sixties/early-Seventies Silver Age.

Perhaps because of that – because all the records covered so far on Motown Junkies have been the output of a young company finding its feet and its voice – we’ve also seen all manner of baffling attempts to catch new trends, chase new dollars. There was Motown’s brief Twist mania at the end of 1961, which saw the company release three Twist singles in a matter of weeks; there was the spate of “answer records” and other rip-offs attempting to latch on to the success of other people’s records; there were dabblings in surf rock, hard blues, novelty kiddie pop, MOR and spoken word amateur dramatics. And now there’s this, the beginning of the strange second life of Mel-o-dy Records.

There’s an argument, of course, to say that just because Mel-o-dy was owned by Motown, and therefore just because Mel-o-dy releases from 1963 onwards appeared on The Complete Motown Singles box sets, they still don’t need to be included in a study of every Motown single ever released (which is what Motown Junkies purports to be, for readers just joining us). After all, the thirteen (!) country & western sides that appeared on Mel-o-dy between 1963 and 1965 have considerably less to do with “Motown”, as most people would understand it, than a whole slew of things that aren’t considered to be genuine Motown: the material Berry Gordy wrote and produced for UA and Chess, the stuff Gordy cut for Rich Records, the stuff Holland-Dozier-Holland cut with the moonlighting Funk Brothers after leaving the company. Hawk-eyed readers will have spotted that I’ve just added two new pages at the very top of the Master Index, for Wade Jones’ I Can’t Concentrate and Insane respectively (thus deviating from the official Motown canon for the first time). The reason is because I’m an inclusionist – I want to cover everything that should be considered a Motown record, including stuff I think should be included, and stuff Motown (in the form of The Complete Motown Singles) insists should be included. And Motown insists this, and the twelve subsequent Mel-o-dy Records singles, should be included, and so here we are.

The first five releases on Mel-o-dy Records had been R&B singles, some of them quite interesting, but all of them underpromoted and left to wither on the vine. Berry Gordy then turned control of the label over to Motown’s sales rep in Texas, Al Klein, who moved its base of operations to Dallas and engaged in a lurching gear-change of startling proportions. First, there were two horrible white comedy records – the Chuck-a-Lucks’ Sugar Cane Curtain and Haney & Armstrong’s epically awful The Interview – which sank without trace. Then, Klein and Motown between them decided to crack the hitherto-untapped country and western market, just about the only musical audience Motown hadn’t already targeted. The plan never bore commercial fruit, but this record was the abortive first tentative step of a company venturing into new ground and still unsure of its footing.

I was bracing myself for some real horrors here – quite a few of the later Mel-o-dy Records C&W releases are by a man called Howard Crockett, who seems to take all the worst aspects of Sixties Johnny Cash records and distil them into several concentrated, easy-to-skip chunks – but Why Go Out Of Your Way is actually rather nice. It opens with a brief flurry of excitement, a chiming pedal steel riff quite unlike anything heard on a Motown record so far (the Supremes’ inexplicable My Heart Can’t Take It No More having been the only other Motown record to feature that instrument) that grabs your attention right off the bat.

After that, things settle into a slow, shuffling rhythm – there are some great brushed drums chugging along, possibly courtesy of the Funk Brothers rather than any of the Nashville players who’d feature on future Mel-o-dy releases – and a more pedestrian arrangement than that intro might initially have promised. Still, if it’s a bit dull, it’s all still perfectly listenable; there are snatches throughout the record of a more interesting song trying to break through (the intro, obviously, and also the bit where Merritt sings “Some day you’re gonna pay for abusing me so, which raises the prospect of an interesting tune). All in all, it’s nowhere near as horrible as I’d been bracing myself for; this isn’t a recommendation, as such, but I actually quite liked this in places.

This was Merritt’s one and only single, for Motown or anyone else, and it didn’t even make it as far as the shelves of a record store. The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 speculate that Merritt was an alias for steel guitar builder Freeman Cowgar, who wrote both sides of this record; if so, it’s a fine showcase for Cowgar’s pedal steel work, by far the most distinctive feature of this pleasantly inoffensive little record. In fact, I might even play this again out of choice.

MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT

4/10

(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 Billy Merritt? Click for more.)

Eddie Holland
“Brenda”
Billy Merritt
“I’ll Go Anywhere”

DISCOVERING MOTOWN

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