(Written by Carolyn Crawford)
Carolyn, not “Caroline”. Bloody Wikipedia. (Although she did cut an LP with Hamilton Bohannon in the late Seventies called My Name Is Caroline, which might have muddied the waters a bit, so maybe we’ll let them off this time.)
Anyway, loud-voiced teenager Carolyn Crawford came to Hitsville via victory in a Tip Top Bread / WCHB radio talent contest when she was 13. The contest saw her sending in a predetermined number of bread wrappers to gain entry at a local amateur talent show, the winner of which would get some prizes including a Motown audition.
But that makes her sound like a modern-day reality show contestant. In fact, despite her tender years Carolyn was an accomplished songwriter and pianist, with a stack of original compositions under her belt. She won the talent contest doing her own rearrangement of Mary Wells’ Laughing Boy, which she reprised for Berry Gordy at her Hitsville audition. Just as he’d done with Wells herself, Gordy not only signed the girl up on the spot, but granted her the chance to cut her own material for her début single.
There’s a fantastic account of all this in the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 3, which indicate that Gordy – perhaps burned by his bitter experience with Miss Teen USA Connie Van Dyke previously in the year – was keen to keep Miss Crawford’s family happy. She wasn’t to record anything until she turned 14, a condition which Gordy readily accepted. True to his word, he had a limo pick her up at midnight on her 14th birthday to ferry her and her chaperone over to the Motown studios, where Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier were waiting for her in the producers’ chairs. The lead vocal for Forget About Me, her début single, was laid down that very night.
Not only is it a charming story, but it also goes a long way towards explaining what makes this record tick, both good and bad. Good first: it rocks. It’s a big, brassy single, a hair’s breadth away from turning into a marching 4/4 stomp but retaining just enough slinky sophistication in the verses to keep things from getting repetitive. A bruising kiss-off to a former lover, the song is clearly pitched several years in Carolyn’s future, but it’s highly entertaining.
Now the bad: perhaps it’s the late hour, or just the giddy enthusiasm of a young girl getting her big break, but Carolyn is out of control here. Perhaps unsure of the strengths of her own song, or maybe suddenly aware of her youth and inexperience, she tries to compensate by going right to the top of her lungs. Her extremely loud vocal is BLAM, right up in your face, especially during the raucous, glammy chorus, where she’s pretty much flat out shouting at you. But she can’t control herself, and the lyrics end up indistinct and garbled (if they were ever completely finished in the first place), meaning this comes across like a demo or guide vocal; the effect is very much one of attitude over technique.
Still, what an attitude. Holland-Dozier could have ordered more 4am retakes from the weary birthday girl, but it’s doubtful they’d have got anything better than what was already in the can – what Carolyn lacks in technical ability she makes up for in sheer energy, and her full-on delivery (which smacks of youth only in its lack of refinement, not in anything to do with pitch or timbre – she could pass easily enough for someone twice her age) lends the song a kind of pissed-off vigour its raw ingredients perhaps wouldn’t otherwise achieve.
Forget About Me failed to chart. Perhaps unsurprising, given all of the above, together with the fact that on closer examination the record goes absolutely nowhere – but there’s plenty of fun to be had on the journey anyway, and Carolyn was kept on the books for a few more releases yet. Definitely a case of “one to watch”.
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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“That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine”
“Devil In His Heart”
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