B-side of Quicksand
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
B-side of Quicksand
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
As 1963 drew to a close, the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting trio were almost becoming ubiquitous at Motown. Almost every act on the label had cut one of their songs, often with Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier producing, and they were starting to accumulate a thick sheaf of material. More importantly, they were becoming a dependable cash cow for Jobete, the publishing arm of Motown to which all the label’s songwriters were automatically signed.
Not before time. The Vandellas’ recent second LP, Heat Wave, produced (like its title track) by Holland and Dozier, had been a cheap and not especially cheerful bit of shovelware, full of low-quality cover versions of non-Jobete songs. By 1965, that sort of thing would happen because HDH simply didn’t have time to write whole albums’ worth of new songs, and the best of their new stuff would automatically go to the Supremes or Four Tops. Here in 1963, it was happening because there weren’t enough new HDH songs yet to fill up two Vandellas albums in six months.
Rather than go back to the Heat Wave LP to pad out the single with a cover B-side (and lose out on valuable revenue), or go back to the Vandellas’ patchily entertaining début album Come And Get These Memories to pull yet another track, Motown instead commissioned this brand new recording, cut at the same session that yielded the A-side, Quicksand.
Not that this is a new song; rather, it’s yet another remake, this time of a song released as a single by Eddie Holland back in December 1962. It’s actually a fairly subtle overhaul, the entire feel of the thing given a quiet but unexpectedly thorough reworking, starting out with an identical intro but then ending up in a very different place, lazier, slinkier, with a much more pronounced gospel influence. The most important new ingredient, though, is Martha Reeves.
Martha was made for this kind of performance. Unlike Quicksand, where she’d given a somewhat deflated performance to go with the slightly sombre lyrical theme, here she’s absolutely “on”, (check out the anguish in her voice to go with the band’s quasi-gospel attack on the reworked tune), giving a powerful, impassioned performance that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and pay attention.
Yet it doesn’t quite fit the song. In fact, the sheer power of Martha’s delivery ends up drawing attention to how forced the whole thing seems. The lyrics, originally a gentle, sad lament over lost love, here turned into a bitter tale of a woman scorned.
The rest of it is similarly messy. The ill-considered “humming” parts from the original are still here, sticking out like even more of a sore thumb when Martha has to abruptly dial down her full-throated vocal to instead start humming mid-sentence. Rosalind and Annette, used to provide a bed of gospel harmonies that blend with the organ and horns in the background, end up as virtual passengers on their own record, a most unusual development for a Vandellas track. And most jarring of all, there’s a ridiculously loud tambourine marking out the beat which drowns out almost everything else on the record, an irritating idea which should have been dropped immediately after take one.
It all adds up to a record that’s oddly unsatisfying when compared to Eddie Holland’s original version; Martha turns in a very fine vocal performance, but arguably for entirely the wrong song, while the rest of it just doesn’t hang together properly at all. Martha is still well worth listening to when she’s on this kind of form, technically if not artistically, and it’s not anything like the train wreck I might be painting it as, but nor is this anywhere near as good as it could so easily have been. A pity.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
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