B-side of Ninety-Nine And A Half Won’t Do
(Written by James Herndon)
The B-side of the Wright Specials’ second and final Motown single was written by their musical director James Herndon, who’d been credited with both sides of their striking début 45 (That’s What He Is To Me b/w Pilgrim Of Sorrow) a year previously.
As with everything else they’d released so far, this was recorded at their first (and at this point only) Motown recording session back in the autumn of 1961, suggesting a certain amount of barrel-scraping was taking place. Apart from showing a lack of faith in the group, it’s also a real loss to posterity; it would have been wonderful to have heard the Wright Specials moving forward, developing their sound as Motown got bigger and more professional. Instead, this would be pretty much it.
Still, as a fourth-choice selection from an archive tape that was nearly two years old, this could have been a lot worse. It’s still not fantastic – it’s a lolloping, simplistic gospel song with a weak tune and very straightforward lyrics, and the backing vocals are a bit shrill – but it at least makes an effort. The weirdly off-kilter piano and brushed drums grab the listener’s interest, while the group’s unidentified lead singer is on excellent form yet again (who is she? Someone out there must know, surely?), delivering some quite unbelievably coruscating sustained notes that make sure everyone’s paying attention.
It’s not particularly fantastic or anything, and it was already quite badly dated by the time it actually came out compared to the contemporary state of popular music, but there are real signs here of the group’s undeniable R&B and blues sensibility that was missing from the straight-ahead church hall gospel of the A-side, and for that alone it’s more of an entertaining listen.
Sadly, there wouldn’t be any further opportunities for this most intriguing of Motown gospel groups to develop their sound; they’d be granted one more recording session in the summer of 1963, but nothing more was ever released, and by the time the year was out the Wright Specials had drifted away from both Motown and the entire music industry.
A real shame, because of all the “watch this space!” stories taking off around Hitsville in 1963/64, the crossover success (or just the continued presence in the catalogue) of the Wright Specials might well have been one of the most fascinating.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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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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|The Wright Specials
“Ninety-Nine And A Half Won’t Do”
“Pa (I Need A Car)”
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