B-side of You’re A Wonderful One
B-side of You’re A Wonderful One
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
Syrupy and sickly, like a double helping of treacle stirred into a pot of honey for no reason at all. This is the quid pro quo Motown exchanged for Can I Get A Witness and You’re A Wonderful One: Marvin Gaye doing what he really wanted to do all along, and using his new-found leverage (as a Hitsville hitmaker and brother-in-law to Berry Gordy) to make sure the label let him do it. Even then, they weren’t sure; the persistent rumour throughout the years has been that Marvin himself had to pick up the tab for these recordings.
This song is the first product we’ve seen of Motown’s new “pseudo-standards” MOR publishing house, ‘Stein and Van Stock Publishing’ – of course, there was no Stein or Van Stock. The company and its writers were deliberately given mainland European, “old line” (or, to put it bluntly, white-sounding) names, with an eye to garnering Motown a greater slice of the all-important sheet music market. The hope was probably that the S&VS hallmark would lead to lucrative re-recording deals on Motown songs, songs that would perhaps find their way into stage show and club repertoires, and become genuine standards in their own right. It never exactly worked, but it wasn’t for want of commitment to the project; here Mickey Stevenson, one of Motown’s most consistent hit-making writer/producers, becomes “Avery Vandenburg” so as not to frighten the racist horses.
All of this suited Marvin right down to the ground, of course. From day one, he’d harboured ambitions to be a glorified, glorious supper-club crooner, the next Nat King Cole, viewing the career in hip-shaking R&B that had made his name and his fortune as first a hindrance, and later a necessary distraction. But now he’d got himself a hit single, Gaye reckoned it was payback time.
The result was a whole LP of this sort of material, also titled When I’m Alone, I Cry (left), which probably seemed like a good idea at the time but which frankly isn’t much cop at all.
In Marvin’s head, he was both a lover and connoisseur of jazz, possessed of a latent talent for the form: a great jazz vocalist. Almost every time he tried it, though, he ended up squarely (in every sense) in supper-club mode, peddling the softest of soft jazz, the blandest of bland arrangements.
Marvin was a great singer – but not for this kind of material. In this regard, Marvin’s MOR recordings remind me a great deal of Scott Walker, who went down a similar path of self-deluded vocalising in the early Seventies (replace “jazz” with “country and western” as the genre being attempted); but they’re the attempts of an enthusiastic dilettante, the musical equivalents of Michael Jordan declaring himself a baseball pro, and we – the casual listeners – aren’t even compensated with some great performances of ill-suited material. Instead, we’re treated to great artists revealing their blind spots; with a couple of notable exceptions, Marvin’s MOR recordings rarely rise above the competent, the average, the merely decent. This is Marvin Gaye, the R&B superstar, and it’s a waste of his talent to hear him indulging himself in a hobby. As it turned out, nobody wanted to pay good money to hear his vanity projects when they could either be buying actual Marvin Gaye records or records by other, more practised radioland crooners.
When I’m Alone, I Cry is a perfect example of Gaye’s hubris, an illustration of the gap between what he was hearing on the tape and what everyone else was listening to. This is a gloopy, largely shapeless late-Forties supper club pastiche that goes absolutely nowhere and takes too long to get there.
In its favour, Marvin is really in love with the schlocky material, occasionally getting close to his R&B vocal best, deep and intense, before wandering off into blander, more buttery passages. Proof positive, perhaps, that a great voice can render even the dullest musical wallpaper briefly compelling. But not nearly enough to save this.
A bit of a mess, all told – but unfortunately for Motown, not enough of a mess to convince Marvin Gaye he’d never make it in these particular dangerous waters.
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.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in Marvin Gaye? Click for more.)
“You’re A Wonderful One”
“Can You Do It”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.