(Written by Mickey Stevenson)
B-side of Can I Get A Witness
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
Looking at Marvin Gaye’s early career as shown by his A- and B-sides, there’s a definite trend emerging, a theme that crops up time after time: Marvin was moving too fast for his B-sides to keep pace.
Typically, now we’re at the stage where he’d discovered his latent talent for R&B, each Marvin Gaye single has sounded like a subtle move or two away from the one before, but his B-sides have often sounded more like the formula Motown follow-up records – what’s been dubbed the “soundalike sequel” approach – that might have been expected. Marvin clearly didn’t have any problem recording these songs (or at least no more so than he did with anything else Motown asked him to do), but there just weren’t enough spots on the release schedule to turn them into a string of modest hit singles. So, they pitched up as B-sides instead.
This one is a case in point. William “Mickey” Stevenson, along with Norman Whitfield and Gaye himself, had written what ended up becoming Marvin’s first Top Ten hit, Pride And Joy earlier in the year. (That song had originally appeared on Marvin’s second LP, That Stubborn Kinda Fellow, in late 1962 before Stevenson polished it up for single release, including a brand-new lead vocal.) Under normal Motown operating procedure, that success should by rights have meant that Marvin’s next single would also be written and produced by Stevenson. It seems reasonably certain that the song Stevenson had in mind for the job was this one; there are a number of striking similarities between I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby and the single version of Pride And Joy (in tune, instrumentation and lyrical themes), as well as a few new elements to keep things fresh. Instead, Holland-Dozier-Holland turned in Can I Get A Witness, and I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby was relegated to the flip side. It still ended up getting a lot of radio play in some cities, mostly on the East and West Coasts, enough that this actually climbed into the lower reaches of the Hot 100 (the dizzy heights of number 77) – in all likelihood enough to dent the chart positions of the A-side – but the moment had passed.
It’s a shame in a lot of ways; however much Marvin’s rapid development was a boon for music fans everywhere, there’s still the nagging sense that – as with all of Marvin’s “one record too late” B-side efforts to date – there were still good records to be developed out of the last idea being left too hastily behind. In Pride And Joy‘s case, there was definitely still blood to be squeezed out of this particular stone, all of which is collected here.
None of which is to say this is as good as Pride And Joy. Not really. Even allowing for the familiarity inherent in a retread of previously-visited territory (which, as we’ll see throughout the Sixties and early Seventies, I don’t necessarily have a problem with; Motown and the Funk Brothers did “soundalike sequels” better than any other label or band in history), it’s just not as strong a record, or a song, as its predecessor.
Replacing Marvin’s brilliant, idiosyncratic vocal delivery from the previous single with a more traditional delivery here is a step backwards; aside from a few moments of character – his sinewy rendering of “WILD about my baby”, or his emotional howls from the two-minute mark onwards, the only intimation this is the same guy who’d cut the stomping A-side – this could really have been sung by any of Motown’s growing roster of capable male vocalists. Which is a waste of Marvin Gaye, in my book. The backing vocals – mostly consisting of a female chorus repeating the phrase “La-de-ay-do” (which for the longest time I misheard as “Gladiator”, but no) – seem similarly underused. Switching the lyrical perspective in which Marvin talks about his “baby” (or “pride and joy”) from second to third person is another subtle change and not for the better.
That’s the bad. The good is that this takes the rest of what was great about Pride And Joy – the rolling tempo, bouncy bass-driven band track, horns and handclaps, gospel choir influence – and uses that as a base, so there’s plenty to like here. Not all the new elements are for the worse – the growling bass sax and repeated low notes at the end of each verse are particularly good.
I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby would have made a perfectly decent follow-up single, and could have made a much bigger chart splash if it had been released under its own steam. It’s just difficult to get away from the fact that this is a good song, but one that’s been cut from the cloth of an even better song.
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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“Can I Get A Witness”
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