(Written by Harry Boorosa and Lewis Colombo)
Typical – a few days away from the blog, and some cheeky prankster has apparently replaced my Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 CDs with Scraping The Barrel XII: A Twelfth Incredible Collection of Squeaky-Clean Tedious White Vocal Groups of 1955. At least, I assume that’s what’s happened, as that’s the only rational explanation for this staggering commercial misjudgement.
No? This actually was released in 1963? By Motown? Seriously? Blimey.
This really is some spectacular crap. The Stylers were a Fifties doo-wop group who, at the tail end of their career, had the incredible good fortune to find themselves caught in the gravitational pull of Berry Gordy’s inexplicable yen for signing bog-standard white artists in the hope of crossing over. This was a silly and outdated idea, which may explain why it was put so readily on to the back burner; the clunky, cheesy pop acts that made up the bulk of early Motown’s white contingent received little promotional push from the company, because young white audiences were already starting to purchase Motown records – Motown records made by black artists – by the crateload.
The business model had been sound enough a musical generation ago. The Crew Cuts, a mid-Fifties Canadian white doo-wop ensemble who racked up millions of sales in the US by peddling safe, sanded-off, watered-down versions of black hits to white teens whose racist parents wouldn’t let them buy “race records”, painted a clear path; the Stylers, their contemporaries, seem to have taken the Crew Cuts’ woeful blandness as a challenge, and set out to be somehow even blander.
Mission accomplished; this horrid, syrupy confection, a preppy and wince-inducing approximation of street corner doo-wop from eight years before, is perhaps the wettest thing Motown ever released.
Everything about this record just screams “tacky”. Very obviously the work of a bunch of middle-aged, middle-class white men, Going Steady Anniversary – a form letter (dictated, but not read) of polite, chaste appreciation by the narrator to his high-school girlfriend, even though the narrator sounds like he’s in his late thirties – has no trace of passion about it, either musically or lyrically.
The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 use the word “sanitised”, and it’s apt; this has had almost every trace of emotion, controversy or excitement scrubbed out in case of controversy. All that’s left over is flaccid garbage.
From the overly-precise diction and awful scansion (the My love, my love, my-y-y-love bit at fifty seconds in is a particular lowlight)…
…to the pervading cultural atmosphere which treats romance as a mechanical progression (boy and girl share first dance, one year later engagement, one year later marriage)…
…to the casual misogyny which doesn’t give the girl a say in the matter (Tonight and forever more you belong to me), because the very notion of this not being some lucky gal’s one and only dream in life would baffle and confuse the narrator…
…to the genuinely godawful spoken-word bit in the middle (where the lead Styler, sounding like an orthodontist explaining a procedure, reads from a page with absolutely no feeling at all, about as filled with joy as if he were reading out a list of some new spoons in a kitchenware catalogue – although he does attempt to make himself sound a bit more hip by abbreviating darling to darlin’, in a hilariously self-conscious manner)…
…to the fact that it’s exactly two minutes long… Honestly, it’s just terrible.
It’s a pop record in name only; this is schlocky, absurdly-wet MOR bollocks, and it’s awful. The only possible rationale behind its release was as a naked cash-in catering to the few thousand remaining white Bible Belt teens whose parents still wouldn’t let them have anything stronger than Pat Boone records. Even then, it failed miserably; Berry Gordy should have known that anyone that thick probably wouldn’t allow their little darlings to shop in record stores that carried black-owned labels’ product (or possibly in record stores full stop).
Already an artefact from a bygone age in 1963, this is positively an ancient relic now. Embarrassing, depressing, soulless drivel with no redeeming features whatsoever.
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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“We’re Only Young Once”
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