B-side of Mickey’s Monkey
Oriole CBA 1863 (B) – September 1963
B-side of Mickey’s Monkey
(Released in the UK under license through Oriole Records)
Once again, a Miracles single appears with the two sides of the record showing off two distinct sides of the group. The A-side, Mickey’s Monkey, a dance record for the hips; this side, Whatever Makes You Happy, a midtempo calypso number for the heart.
Written by Smokey Robinson along with Miracles bandmate Ronnie White, this one is much more “stereotypically Smokey” than the A-side. Very much in the same bag as the hits Robinson had penned in 1962 for Mary Wells and the Supremes, it’s all rather pretty and there’s plenty to like here, but it feels somehow… I think the word I’m looking for is “underdeveloped”, and I’m talking both musically and lyrically.
Musically, it’s an almost exact hybrid between I’ll Try Something New and You Beat Me To The Punch, played beautifully, with some delicate, well-judged extra touches (check out the subtle quasi-flamenco guitar buried in the mix, and the gorgeous flute part that flutters high above the band’s heads), but even the most ardent Miracles fan wouldn’t argue this tune was one of Smokey’s strongest; thin and wispy where it should be bold and memorable, the melody seems lacking.
The tune here is just some easily-forgotten connective tissue between hooks – the recurring horn figure, the Miracles’ lovely Ooh-ooh-ooh backing vocals, Smokey’s soaring bursts of unexpected falsetto.
Lyrically, the conceit is an unusual one. Your happiness is more important than mine, says Smokey’s narrator, so if me being sad made you happy, then – paradoxically – I’d be happy to be sad. (Which… well, I said almost exactly the same thing to my then-girlfriend when I was fifteen, and it didn’t go down all that well. But I digress.)
It’s been held up as an example of Smokey’s supreme romantic understanding, a great and beautiful gesture, but I don’t know about that – it just doesn’t quite work in the same way as some of Smokey’s best romantic lyrics leading up to this one. It’s as though there’s a piece missing, that the concept isn’t fully realised, or something.
Or maybe, as my 15-year-old self discovered, it’s that the central idea isn’t that appealing; where I’ll Try Something New is timeless and utterly believable, Whatever Makes You Happy comes across as slightly false, a touch glib, a commitment given too easily. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, it’s always left me a little cold.
If it all sounds like a step backwards, there’s a good reason; this was originally included on the LP The Fabulous Miracles, left, and was almost a year old when it was resurrected to serve as the B-side here. Perhaps it would have been better left on the album, and yet ordinary as it is by Miracles standards (it’s a testament to the strength of Smokey’s songwriting, and the excellent vocal he turns in here, that even a “Miracles by the numbers” job like this is still better than many groups’ best efforts), it’s still good, and forms a very effective counterpoint to the A-side in terms of showing off two rather different sides of the Miracles. Although, truth be told, it’s hard to imagine who in America, if anyone, wasn’t already aware of what the Miracles were capable of by this point.
They were certainly capable of doing better than this, which is almost the very definition of an average Miracles song, if there is such a thing. All very nice, but somehow lacking when compared to the far superior songs which so clearly inspired it.
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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