b/w Goddess Of Love
(Written by Smokey Robinson)
b/w Goddess Of Love
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Stateside Records)
In many ways, this is the starkest illustration yet that the Marvelettes, Motown’s first great girl group, had lost their way. I don’t say they’d gone off the boil – there were plenty of excellent Marvelettes records being made – just that there was no sense of direction about their career any more, no ultimate goal.
This is the biggest what-the-hell moment in the Marvelettes’ canon, and a good candidate for silliest Motown single of 1964 (if not ever). It’s another attempt to reignite the girls’ chart fortunes courtesy of Smokey Robinson, whose previous attempt at the task (the last Marvelettes single, the unpopular As Long As I Know He’s Mine) hadn’t pulled up any trees. Here, Smokey lajunches the girls into a sassy, rollicking girl group clap-along stomper; derivative and dated but wholly charming as it builds to what’s set to be an unstoppable chorus, Gladys Horton on top form once she takes up the lead vocal, leading her cohorts up the scale with a mix of pleasing lightness and military precision, her friends gathered with her for once instead of against her, and it’s an intoxicating mix. “Some girls say he’s so bad / But I can’t agree / ‘Cos if he makes them sad / He’s still sweet to me”, sings Gladys, with utter sincerity and belief, she and the other Marvelettes climbing and soaring towards the inevitable chorus climax, and…
…And the chorus, I’m not making this up, is Charlie Had A Pigeon. Seriously. Note for note.
(Alright, technically it’s Oh Du Lieber Augustin, to give it its proper name, but for anyone British between the ages of 21 and 70, you’ll instead be instantly brought up short by memories of school coach trips and Charlie had a pigeon, a pigeon, a pigeon / Charlie had a pigeon, a pigeon that flew / It flew in the day, it flew in the night / And when it came back it was covered in / CHARLIE had a pigeon, a pigeon, a pigeon… Americans, I’m informed, know this tune in a similar context as I’m A Little Dutch Girl. It says here.)
Really, I’m not making this up. It lurches from an irresistible 4/4 Brill Building girl group sass-fest to a 3/4 schoolyard clapping game, and with totally straight faces all around, as though Smokey and the girls all thought we wouldn’t bloody notice or something. What on God’s earth anyone involved was thinking, I’ll never know.
A crunching change of momentum, tempo and reality, it doesn’t completely trash the song – the verses are strong enough to withstand the initial WTF moment, and the sentiments actually being expressed lyrically during those very silly choruses are far less incongruous than the music they’re being set to (even if the girls do trip over the word “faithful” at one stage, half of them apparently singing “grateful” instead), while the verses and sax breaks are worth applause of their own. What it does do is turn it from a patchy but passingly-splendid good-time Marvelettes single to a merely interesting (or intriguing) one, a curiosity rather than the reasonable hit we were initially promised.
Like I say each time this sort of thing happens (a potentially great song being held back by some minor error of judgement, I mean, not someone lifting entire chunks of Oh du lieber Augustin into the middle of a record – that’s new), it’s a real pity. In this case, Smokey seems to have deliberately clipped the wings of hs own song, and I still don’t understand why.
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’ll Cry Tomorrow”
“Goddess Of Love”
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