(Written by Mickey Stevenson and Johnny Allen)
Young Agatha “Kim” Weston’s first single had seen the big-voiced B-side (Love Me All The Way) outpace the nominal top side (It Should Have Been Me) on the charts, and so for her next release Motown followed that template accordingly. In the process, they gave writer/producer William “Mickey” Stevenson a second chance to right a previous wrong.
Back in 1961, Stevenson had written and produced a brilliant show-stopping doo-wop ballad for the company’s rising star of the time, Mary Wells. Entitled Strange Love, the song called on Mary to explore her full range, going from throaty disdain to swooping high notes, over a lush bed of strings and piano. Unaccountably, the record had been a total commercial flop, and Stevenson was promptly removed from the Mary Wells gig in favour of Smokey Robinson, a move which led to a string of Top Ten hits for Mary under Smokey’s guidance. Stevenson, meanwhile, had been left out in the cold somewhat, before hooking up with Marvin Gaye and guiding him to the Top Ten instead.
Here, though, he gets to take another crack at something in the same bag as Strange Love, this time with an even stronger singer: his throaty new project (and future wife), Miss Kim Weston, who claims to have co-written the song.
It’s very similar in conception and set-up (Kim even re-uses the excellent fake laugh from the Mary Wells record); it’s not as good a song, nor is it as heartbreakingly affecting, but it has plenty of new things going for it to compensate. A bevy of piercing horns take the place of the big string section from Strange Love, including the dramatic intro, grabbing the attention right away; the pace is slower, leaving bigger gaps between instruments, empty space to provide a dramatic backdrop for Kim’s voice.
As with most of her solo records, this one stands and falls with Kim Weston’s vocal performance; everything on the record is set up to serve her, lovingly tailored to the cadences of her voice. This approach brings a couple of show-stopping moments – the bit where the narrator loses control at 1:48 and is reduced to muttering Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh is just fantastic, and the “chorus” – just a recitation of the title, really – has Kim diving for an unexpected chord which resonates through your body and memory, lodging itself right in the mind and refusing to let go.
The rest of the song, all minor keys and ominous low notes before we get to a more predictable, slightly schmaltzy “big finish”, isn’t up to those standards, but Miss Weston is never less than thrilling as she takes us through it.
Kim’s voice is like a caged tiger; she could strip the paint from the walls if she wanted to, so even when she’s “winding up” in the low, contemplative verses here, you know it’s still advisable to stand well back. When she cuts loose, it’s always a joy to behold (from a safe distance!) – a delivery of remarkable power, but never in danger of going tunelessly out of control.
It’s in the service of a good but not amazing song, very much out of character for the Motown of late 1963, but Kim’s vocal is worth the price of admission on its own. (The liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3 have her mentioning Dinah Washington by name as a deliberate influence here, and she’s absolutely right – the comparison is even more obvious on the version of this song which features on her superb Motown Anthology compilation CD, above, which includes an extra 25-second section of sassy, talky, almost-spoken jazz/blues meandering in the middle, apparently cropped right out of the single version).
A good record, but blessed with an excellent lead vocal, this unfortunately failed to chart. Still, after two singles, it must have been clear Motown had a major new talent on their hands. Her inevitable success and rise to superstardom, when it came – as it surely would, of that there could have been little doubt – would give Motown a vibrant new string to its bow. Now, it was just a matter of finding her a hit 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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“I Couldn’t Cry If I Wanted To”
“Another Train Coming”
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