B-side of There He Goes
(Written by Robert Hamilton)
It struck me yesterday that when discussing the career of the Velvelettes, probably the most unfairly overlooked act in Motown’s history, I hadn’t mentioned the supreme irony of the final chapter in the Velvelettes story. The UK Northern Soul scene has always been decidedly sniffy about artists and records that achieved too much mainstream success on original release, and so a group with a string of fantastic but little-heard R&B singles takes on a particular resonance for the weekender crowd. For these hardcore British soulies, the Velvelettes – a group most people who worked for Motown might have had trouble picking out of a line-up, let alone casual music fans – enjoy a reputation that exceeds that of pretty much any other Motown group, with the result that the reconstituted group need never want for regular live bookings on this side of the Atlantic.
Quite right too.
That’s The Reason Why – recorded on the same day as the A-side, There He Goes, and therefore also featuring the talents of Little Stevie Wonder on harmonica, as he happened to be in the studio for that session – is the heavier and stronger of the two sides of the Velvelettes’ début single. If There He Goes had been redolent of Martha and the Vandellas’ own début, I’ll Have To Let Him Go, then That’s The Reason Why eschews the midtempo calypso style in favour of the uptempo flavour of several tracks by another top Motown girl group of the era, the Marvelettes.
Opening with a startling, outlandishly-pronounced intro – drums, horns, Stevie’s wailing harmonica, and a strange, oddly-cadenced, almost-chanted group vocal – I don’t be-LIEVE in love on the BOR-ROW / here to-DAY and then gone to-MOR-ROW” – that instantly grabs the listener’s interest, That’s The Reason Why quickly opens out into a thoroughly enjoyable girl group stomp.
The vocals are excellently confident, and there’s a cheeky smirk in the lyrics – the song is about a girl explaining her refusal to “put out” for her boyfriend unless he puts a ring on it first (Prove that your love is real / Let the preacher close the deal / I don’t want to take a chance / On just a fly-by-night romance) – which suits lead singer Cal Gill down to the ground. She was only fifteen when this was recorded, but her delivery here is again mature beyond her years, and her sassy, no-nonsense demeanour makes it completely believable she’d stand up for herself like this.
(There’s a great bit right at the very end, barely audible as the song fades down, where Cal explains “So many guys have come around / Trying to take me for a clown”, with a wry, barely-concealed subtext of “but I’m sure YOU’RE not suggesting that sort of thing, are you?” I love it.)
The Velvelettes’ Motown Anthology, pictured left, features a subsequently-rejected re-recording of this, done a month later without Stevie Wonder to hand. That version is still good, but this original version is (for my money, anyway) the better of the two; Stevie’s harmonica, used sparingly and granted a miniature solo in the middle eight, adds something to the record not often heard on girl group workouts.
The band, too, are on fine form, especially the drums and horns; if producer Mickey Stevenson can’t quite corral all the various instruments into a cohesive whole, each individual musician still does himself proud given free rein to express himself. It’s the drums that really catch the attention, though, with their pounding, echoey shuffle and dynamic fills, and they fit the sound of the group’s developing vocals perfectly, the early-period Velvelettes here presaging the days when – under the aegis of Norman Whitfield – they’d make better use of Motown’s rhythm section than just about any other group.
They still weren’t the finished article quite yet, but the two sides of this record amount to a fine début, and this B-side is just a whole lot of fun, such that it’s hard to pick too many holes in 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!)
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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“There He Goes”
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