Another Motown landmark, and a sad one, as a notable first gives way to a last.
Mable John had been Motown’s first female act, having originally cut a version of Who Wouldn’t Love A Man Like That as her début single back in August of 1960. But times had changed, and Mable’s gospel-tinged R&B/blues style was no longer “in”; she’d never had a hit record, and while her personal relationship with the Gordy family had largely protected her from the wholesale cull of blues acts from the Motown roster that had taken place during 1962/63, this was still her first single in a year and a half, and its subsequent commercial failure – some accounts aren’t even aware whether any stock copies were ever manufactured, though apparently there were plenty to go around, so poor was Motown’s (lack of) sales push – meant this was her last ever outing for the company.
It’s a really unusual artefact, this. Produced by the up-and-coming duo of Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier (although the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 have Mable speculating the real producer was actually Little Stevie Wonder, who would have been 13 at the time), it’s a slightly uncomfortable compromise. The band Mable recorded with in 1963 are a completely different proposition to those she’d recorded with in 1960, and the song has been updated to match, bringing in a more contemporary R&B/pop arrangement which takes the amiable blues strut of Who Wouldn’t Love A Man Like That and repositions it more in the Mary Wells mould.
The new “busy” arrangement, with its new faster tempo and pop accoutrements, is charming in its own way – the organ and percussion are fun, the backing vocals fizz entertainingly, and there’s a great little twangy guitar solo halfway through which reminds the listener of Mable’s earlier records and the time when Motown had a serious commitment to the blues – but it all seems to be in the wrong key for Mable’s voice, and she struggles to keep pace with the quicker timing of the remake.
Still, even in the wrong key and pushing herself to bend her sultry delivery to a more rapid-fire pop arrangement, Mable is still engaging, her personality still right there on the record just as it always was on her best stuff (her B-side Take Me is the best recording of hers that falls under the singles-only remit of Motown Junkies, but check out the CD compilation My Name Is Mable for more fine examples).
The overall effect is something of a shame – one of the great voices of early Motown, trying and (mostly) failing to keep up with a song that’s no longer recognisable as hers. Something of a sad note upon which for a legend to depart the scene, even if the record itself isn’t the train wreck it might have been.
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:
- Mable John (original version) (August 1960)
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 Mable John? Click for more.)
“Come On Home”
“Say You’ll Never Let Me Go”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.