B-side of Workout Stevie, Workout
(Written by Clarence Paul)
B-side of Workout Stevie, Workout
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
Much like the A-side, this is a mostly-instrumental quasi-jam, a showcase for Stevie to wail away on his harmonica.
Unlike the A-side, at first blush it comes across as knowingly silly rather than self-important, an attitude which pervades the record from its title on in. Monkey Talk opens with a faux-live monologue, writer-producer Clarence Paul’s calculated but risky choice attempting to give this some of the flavour of Fingertips (Part 1), a.k.a. the side nobody listened to; over a bed of bongos and bass, Stevie explains the song’s purported genesis in a recent dream he had about him and his friend being two monkeys. The tone is decidedly comic, and there’s an attempt at a slightly racy one-liner in the middle (he tells us that in the dream, his name was “Ug” and his friend’s name was “Mo”, and you can hear him giggle endearingly as he does his line: I guess that’s why they called us Ugmo!; it’s only a hair’s breadth away from including rimshots to remind a live audience to laugh, such that the drummer here seems to actually be thinking about it).
That silliness seeps right through the record, giving the whole thing a much more relaxed and carefree feel. Yet while the rest of the record is informed and coloured by that tinge of throwaway comic absurdity, there’s nothing on the rest of it to remind us that’s how it began – save a few vocal interjections of Monkey talk! on Stevie’s part, it’s a highly-proficient, highly-listenable band instrumental. The decision to start the record with Stevie’s monologue, implicitly claiming some creative input, is a clever trick, adding a personalising touch that might otherwise have been lacking.
Make no mistake, this is a band track through and through; more rooted in sinuous blues-jazz than the secular pseudo-gospel of the A-side, its original, “grown up” title, Speeding Around A Slow Bend (presumably coined before Paul thought up any of that monkey stuff), makes you realise that this is exactly the sort of thing some of the Funk Brothers might have laid down for a solo LP on Workshop Jazz subsidiary. Normally, I’d chide a “Little” Stevie Wonder record for pandering to the kiddie novelty schtick angle, but in this instance it all seems more like a cheeky wink, even a bait-and-switch, rather than a ploddingly unsubtle marketing gesture; everything else on the record, including Stevie’s own ferociously forceful harmonica playing, is decidedly non-novelty, and while the band are clearly having fun, they’re still taking it seriously enough that it sounds good; the horns are especially invigorating.
Definitely an improvement on the A-side; ironically given the title and Stevie’s jokey opening spiel, this is actually one of the more mature records he’d been associated with so far, and all the better for 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.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in Stevie Wonder? Click for more.)
|Little Stevie Wonder
“Workout Stevie, Workout”
“Can I Get A Witness”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.