(Written by Frank Wilson)
The very last record Motown released in 1963 turns out to be the beginning of a whole new branch of the Hitsville family tree. Specifically, this is the first flowering of what became Motown’s West Coast operations, initially a diversion, a regional office which eventually ended up absorbing the entire company.
All of that must have seemed light years away when some of Berry Gordy’s California contacts got together to start recording some material for release through Motown. Almost everyone involved with this record would go on to play a significant part in the Motown story: writer Frank Wilson, producers Hal Davis and Marc Gordon, the Los Angeles session musicians who actually put the track together, and Brenda Holloway, big sister of the lead vocalist and (according to some sources) featured on backing vocals here. Everyone, then, apart from the headliner Patrice Holloway herself.
Sadly, I’m writing about this record just slightly too early to take advantage of Patrice’s upcoming Love and Desire CD anthology, and the no doubt excellent research that will have gone into its liner notes, so I can’t shed much light on why this was her one and only single for Motown. Rumours abound of a legal situation so complicated it actually caused this single to be withdrawn from sale; supposedly Motown attempted to sign Brenda and Patrice together, this single the first product of a promising new California connection, but when Patrice’s former management contract (she’d previously cut the striking Do The Del-Viking for little-known Taste Records) interfered with the plan, Berry Gordy simply couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, and – barring a few demo cuts, due to be anthologised on the aforementioned CD – that was that as far as the Motown career of Patrice Holloway went.
VIP Records, the Motown imprint which began by carrying much of the company’s West Coast product (having not always been the second-string clearing house it later became), was treated as a poor relation among Motown labels throughout its lifespan. It’s perhaps fitting, then, that the Holloway family – treated as poor relations among Motown acts – should provide its first release, and that Patrice – treated by Motown as a poor relation to her big sister Brenda – should be the one to do it. Whatever the case, it’s a wildly uneven record, a bizarre artefact which breaks the amazing run of above-par A-sides Motown had brought to close out 1963.
It’s a strange concept in and of itself, regardless of the discogrpahical context; this is one child artist (Patrice was 12) cutting a tribute record to another child artist, both sides of the single paying homage to Motown’s newly-famous chart-topping star, Little Stevie Wonder.
This one starts off extremely promisingly, it must be said. Patrice shows off a deep, mature voice to go along with the mature sentiments in the lyrics – Stevie, do you love me? Do you really care? – you’d never for a second imagine that the woman singing those lines was actually a twelve year old girl. Meanwhile, Frank Wilson conjures up an instantly riveting, haunting chord progression, Davis and Gordon intentionally bedeck the track with Stevie’s trademark instrumentation of pianos, hissy drums and bongos (though no harmonica!) lest anyone miss the Wonder connection. 35 seconds in and I’m preparing myself for at least an eight out of ten job, possibly even more.
Sadly, it can’t last. Patrice loses control of the whole thing far too quickly, the entire record devolving into an unlistenably shrill, directionless delivery on top of a fine band track. The vocal becomes unintelligible, clearly showing Holloway’s age as she climbs the register and then gets stuck up there.
In sharp contrast to the Pacific waves of the introductory verses, she’s reduced to hollering at the top of her voice – she actually sounds very much like Little Stevie Wonder on I Call It Pretty Music But The Old People Call It The Blues (Part 1) at this point, and I don’t mean that as a compliment – and it’s already become tiresome before the record runs out of ideas and inexplicably repeats itself in full once we reach the halfway stage. By the time we get to the end, when Wilson has Patrice interpolate a whole snatch of Fingertips (Part 2), a direct lift from a much better song in case anyone hadn’t got the joke yet (Everybody say yeah! Say yeah!), she actually somehow sounds even younger and wilder than Wonder himself had.
As far as I can make out amid the din, the lyrics are bizarre, too, casting Stevie – the subject of the tribute, and a Motown labelmate to boot, and therefore the artist whose fans were likely the target market for this cash-in effort – in the role of the heartless cad who’s broken Patrice’s heart. (And it’s not subtle, either, she’s really been screwed over here – check out these lines: They were only sugar coated words, dipped in my love and covered with a little white lie / Now I don’t believe love any more… I’ve learned my lesson the hard way…!) Painting Stevie as a heel on his own tribute single is a very interesting idea, and as far as I know there’s no surviving information on how he himself took the “compliment” (or even if he ever heard this record at all); really, it just goes to show how chaotic and half-finished the whole thing is. Maybe Motown had to rush it out before it was ready to try and beat whatever legal wrangles would soon lead to its withdrawal?
A messy start for everyone involved, even if there’s plenty of promise being shown at the same time, this is ultimately a weak record which is all the more frustrating because it could have been genuinely superb. A pity.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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