(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
There’s all kinds of irony here.
As 1963 drew to a close, Eddie Holland had all but given up on seeing another hit single as a performer, having released no less than six singles in an increasingly forlorn quest for a follow-up hit record to his 1961 smash Jamie; instead, he was settling into a remarkable second career as one-third of America’s hottest up-and-coming songwriting team, already responsible for more hits as a writer than he’d ever managed as a singer.
Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, Edward Holland Jr finally got his belated follow-up hit, with one of his most fondly-remembered Motown cuts. Coming less than two months after his previous effort, the commendable I’m On The Outside Looking In, this was only recorded at the end of November, but its quality was such that Motown rushed it to market in the space of a couple of weeks. (That scramble to the shops may explain why an old B-side, Brenda, was pressed into service again here.) Hitsville was awash with excitement over a new Eddie Holland record, for the first time since (If) Cleopatra Took A Chance back in May ’62.
Since then, of course, the role of Handsome Motown Male Solo Turn had been filled by one Marvin Gaye. The Eddie versus Marvin question had all but been resolved by the end of 1963, even if Gaye hadn’t quite become the superstar hitmaker Motown sought to portray him as (a laudable string of Top 40 hits, but scarcely enough to justify the Greatest Hits LP the label released a few months later). Indeed, the very notion of a battle between the two men to establish Motown’s top solo R&B performer was seems ludicrous to modern eyes, and so it’s important to remember that for a time Eddie actually had the upper hand – he’d had a good-size hit in Jamie, and the path had been far from clear.
Much has been made of this record’s coarse, energetic “gospel-blues” feel, as if this were Eddie’s attempt at a rougher take on Can I Get A Witness or Pride And Joy. In fact, it comes across to me as more like Eddie’s attempt at the Miracles’ Mickey’s Monkey; that Bo Diddley riff not only laid bare but positively floodlit in an attempt to get the hips of Holland’s fans moving again. Still, the comparisons with Marvin Gaye are there for all to hear; as a last stab at solo stardom from a man already guaranteed at least a mention in all future discussions of great songwriters, this is Eddie looking around at what his labelmates were managing to sell, and adjusting his style accordingly.
It’s said that Eddie hated performing, and viewed his singing career as a distraction, a masochistic self-appointed task to be plugged away at with grim determination. If that’s true, then this vivid, energetic number doesn’t let it show at all; Holland’s ever-noticeable mannered diction and slightly restrained delivery don’t exactly suit the ballsy attack provided by the band (the contrast between music and vocal is especially noticeable at the start, when a vibrant, twangy two-guitar riff part gives way to a series of primitive “orchestra hits” before Eddie comes in sounding as though he’s already short of breath), but his performance is plenty engaging and he gamely gives it a real shot (his exclamation of They’re getting TIRED-ah! is a genuine surprise, and the Awwww-YEAHs at the end deserve applause).
Meanwhile, the band performance is hair-raising, the mix now really coming together; even if this has little of the Motown Sound about it on first listen, subsequent investigation reveals the Funk Brothers getting to grips with nearly all the oft-discussed magic ingredients, as well as an all-round tight performance that heralds the sonic perfection these musicians would become world-famous for just a few months later. I don’t know if Earl Van Dyke had joined up yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was now running the show by this point in time – there’s a real sense of purpose to the band track here, a combination of urgency and discipline that results in an absolutely killer instrumental cut.
Lyrically, it’s a bit of a strange one – the subject of the song is, rather surprisingly, not Eddie himself but rather “the girls” of his town, and having seen the future in a dream, he’s on a mission to both educate and exhort us to treat said girls better before they start leaving en masse. It’s a confusing role for a singer – is he part of the gang who have been doing the “misusing” (he does explicitly say “we” a few times), or is he just a hectoring prophet of doom cajoling others to change their ways? It was certainly enough to confuse Motörhead, whose 1975 cover changes the chorus to a first-person gesture of exasperation. (Though it seems wrong to be talking about covers of Leaving Here – of which there are many – and not mention either Tommy Good, who we’ll come to later, or the stupendous organ-and-tambourine version by the Isley Brothers (8), to be found on their Motown Anthology, but which the Internet rather infuriatingly doesn’t seem to have readily available for your listening pleasure).
Ultimately, there’s not a great deal wrong with this original version, but I still find myself wishing it was Ronald Isley (or Marvin Gaye, for that matter) rather than Eddie Holland doing the song; Eddie’s performance is still a bit too reserved to really sell the song properly, and his message gets a bit confused as a result, leading to a perceived lack of star quality and an oddly unsatisfying hole at the centre of the record. Perhaps the greatest irony is that it’s Eddie Holland’s comeback hit which ends up underlining the fact he was no longer the best man to fill that hole.
A fine little record, blessed with a great band performance and considerably more spiky and energetic than might have been expected, but it’s hard not to wonder whether this could have been even better if someone else had sung 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!)
Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- Tommy Good (July 1964)
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