B-side of My Daddy Knows Best
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr. with Janie Bradford)
Supposedly the Marvelettes’ first recording as a quartet following the early retirement of Wyanetta (Juanita) Cowart, Tie A String Around Your Finger comes as something of a surprise. Unlike the clunky, unrefined stomp of the disappointing A-side, My Daddy Knows Best, this B-side is a soft, breathy ballad, very similar in feel to Mary Wells’ What Love Has Joined Together, on which the Marvelettes’ Gladys Horton gets to do her very best Mary Wells impersonation.
The summer of 1963 saw the Marvelettes definitively overtaken by Martha and the Vandellas as Motown’s top girl group, and the fates of the two groups were intertwined during that changeover. Both groups’ previous singles (Locking Up My Heart for the Marvelettes and Come And Get These Memories for the Vandellas) had been written by the rising Holland-Dozier-Holland team and released at almost exactly the same time.
Now, history was repeating itself – the Vandellas saw their new HDH-penned record, Heat Wave, hit the stores just one week after the new Marvelettes record came out. As if to underline the changing fortunes of the two acts, the Marvelettes saw their newly-recorded HDH song used as a B-side, Motown opting not for HDH and the future, but for Berry Gordy and the past. The results didn’t lie. While Martha Reeves’ smash hit stormed to the top of the R&B charts and crash-landed in the Pop Top 5, the Marvelettes saw My Daddy Knows Best limp to number 67 pop, and unbelievably miss the R&B chart altogether.
All of which is a bit of a shame, because this is really a very fine song; it deserved more than to be buried under an embarrassing flop, at any rate. It’s unlike any other Marvelettes record seen before; the closest analogue would be Someday, Someway or Forever, but even those are more urgent and forceful than Tie A String Around Your Finger, which is an altogether slower and gentler affair.
(It’s also not quite as good as either of those records, but let’s not split hairs.)
When the Marvelettes were at their best, it was the Marvelettes themselves who made the difference, and that’s the case here. Unlike the A-side, a throwaway album track, they’re giving this one their absolute best. They’re also noticeably older – the studio data quoted in the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 indicates this was recorded only a couple of weeks previously, in June 1963, and the girls’ maturing voices are striking in their improved technical ability. The backing vocals – especially the high “Oooh”s peppered throughout the song – are quite lovely in places, and their deadpan, almost monotone harmonising comes over as charming and well-judged rather than flat. Meanwhile, Gladys Horton again sounds superb on lead, taking her cues this time from Mary Wells (who was more familiar with this sort of breathy midtempo fare).
As if to show off the girls’ newfound vocal self-confidence, the first verse – airy, almost wispy in places, verging on the ethereal – is taken almost acapella, with minimal backing from piano, vibes and bongos. The record picks up force and volume as it goes along, an electric guitar part, horns and drums all kicking in ready for the second verse, but Gladys doesn’t change her delivery in the slightest, doesn’t even break stride. It sounds great.
It’s a very pretty song, lush and all-enveloping; the central theme, “don’t forget me while you’re away”, is a pop music staple and the lyrics here don’t provide anything new or particularly memorable for that particular canon, but they do a job, and the scansion is much better than on the topside. Really, though, the lyrics are just a vehicle for a lovely voice and a pretty tune.
Not a classic tune by any means, but it’s all very nice. While it’s hardly life-changing stuff, it still might have made more sense to use this as the plug side rather than the grating My Daddy Knows Best, as it’s a much better showcase for the group and their current powers; if the Marvelettes were about to give up their crown as Motown’s top girl group, they were doing so as gracefully as possible.
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.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in The Marvelettes? Click for more.)
“My Daddy Knows Best”
|Martha & the Vandellas
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.