(Written by Berry Gordy)
Since I last wrote about the Marvelettes, their original lead singer Gladys Horton has sadly passed away. Motown Junkies extends its condolences to her family and friends.
Unfortunately, the next Marvelettes record up for review is scarcely their finest work. This bit of daffy nonsense had been one of the more memorable cuts from the group’s fourth album, The Marvelous Marvelettes. The LP, released back in February 1963, had been something of a disappointment both artistically and commercially; a series of often capable but also often unremarkable girl group workouts augmented by two separately recorded singles (the timeless Strange I Know and the less impressive Locking Up My Heart), it suffers in comparison to its immediate predecessor, Playboy, the first great Motown album.
Motown must have struggled to pick a third single from The Marvelous Marvelettes, because while a lot of it is pleasant enough, to my ears there really isn’t one remaining unused track that jumps out and shouts “hit record”. Nonetheless, for whatever reason the label weren’t happy with the newest song cut by the group, Tie A String Around Your Finger, which ended up used as the flipside here. Instead, they plumped for My Daddy Knows Best, the only track from the LP penned and produced by Motown boss Berry Gordy Jr., which may have been a factor in the decision.
This is a retrograde step in almost every sense. A largely straightforward midtempo beat-driven pop stomp with more than a hint of Little Eva’s The Loco-Motion about it, the tune has one or two interesting moments, but it’s mostly predictable, down-the-line stuff, and disappointingly conventional. The interesting moments are almost enough to save the song – the Get out and get a job section which first crops up at 0:52 is both unexpectedly touching and really quite lovely, if too short-lived, and the warlike, echoing drum riff that opens the record briefly raises hopes – but on the whole this sounds like an opportunity missed.
Gladys Horton’s lead vocal is pleasingly throaty, if a little flat in places, but yet again poor scansion in the lyrics forces her to jump through hoops to fit the words to the music; the end result is often awkward. The other Marvelettes are again shrill and grating, in an unwelcome reminder of their similarly raw performances back on their first album, Please Mr Postman, back in 1961.
The lyrics, though, are the most jarring thing about this. The era of teenage rebellion and independence was well and truly in motion, and yet Motown – and its president – saw fit to release a song about the importance of listening to your parents and respecting their choices when it comes to your romantic life.
A surprising misjudgement of the popular mood, the song features Gladys’ narrator telling her would-be boyfriend her father doesn’t approve of his life choices, and that she agrees with him. “While you’re in pool rooms / You should be in school rooms”, she advises him in the song’s most memorable couplet. It’s completely asinine; the central sentiment, “don’t let feckless boys take advantage of you”, is laudable, but it’s not the stuff of which pop records are made, certainly not pop records by one of the best groups in America. Also, even if the message were something the teens of 1963 would readily lap up, its delivery is so crushingly obvious and unbearably preachy that it casts Gladys’ character in an unfavourable light, controlled by her parents and happy to throw allegations at her boyfriend (the role the listener is made to play, meaning Gladys spends the entire record criticising us directly) based solely on her father’s say-so.
There is the tiniest hint of a smirk at the very end, as Gladys is being faded out (Don’t say that he’s mean / I’ll have to tell him everything), which adds the merest touch of irony to the title – but otherwise, the whole thing comes across as didactic and deadly serious, a sermon to the Marvelettes’ teenage listeners as reinforcement of (or replacement for) their own parents’ advice. My daddy told me that boys may say some things that aren’t true, Gladys advises in the first line; we’re only a couple of steps away from “Just Say No” territory, at which point I’ll have to call the music police.
The American public, who less than a year ago had pushed a succession of fabulous Marvelettes singles right up the pop charts, were left completely cold by all of this. The record just about cracked the pop Top 70, but black radio wasn’t interested at all; this was the group’s first single to miss the R&B charts completely. Their time as Motown’s top girl group was now officially over, their crown about to be ceded to Martha and the Vandellas in very public fashion.
The Marvelettes’ weakest single to date, this should really have been left on the album where it belonged.
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!)
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“May I Have This Dance”
“Tie A String Around Your Finger”
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