b/w If You Were Mine
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
Much like the Funk Brothers, the Andantes – Louvain Demps, Jackie Hicks and Marlene Barrow – were one of Motown’s best-kept secrets. Unlike the musicians, the BV girls still haven’t been given their moment in the sun, leaving them still Standing In The Shadows Of (The Shadows Of) Motown. This despite them having featured, usually uncredited (and sometimes actively billed as other people altogether!) on dozens upon dozens of Motown’s greatest recordings.
This, their one and only Motown single as the headline act, could all have been very different if it had come about in 1962. The Supremes and Vandellas both graduated from backing vocals to top-billed artistes, getting – and taking – their Big Breaks as if destiny had intended it all along. It was never like that for the Andantes, despite their having been around Hitsville for considerably longer than either of those more famous groups, Louvain Demps having been known to Berry Gordy – by her own admission here on Motown Junkies – around the time of one of the very first pseudo-Motown singles, Wade Jones’ I Can’t Concentrate, back in 1958.
Instead, they were kept firmly out of the spotlight, Motown perhaps realising (as with the Funk Brothers) that there was more value in keeping the Andantes under lock and key in the studio, available to back up, fill out or just plain cover for more marketable stars, 23/7 (Hitsville was closed one hour each day for cleaning). Just as with the Funk Brothers, Motown tried to keep them sweet by making sure they were compensated financially and promising them the chance to cut records of their own some day. This was as close as Motown ever got to fulfilling that promise during the twelve-odd years the Andantes spent working for the label, and – again, just as with the Funk Brothers – everything about it is still almost completely wrong.
The Funk Brothers were serious jazz musicians to a man, and so Motown promised them that if they behaved themselves, eventually they’d get to cut some jazz LPs. Instead, when Motown did deign to give them their own releases, they ended up cutting underpromoted sides that were usually just lightly-retooled instrumental versions of Motown’s pop hits. The Andantes were a supremely skilled vocal group, and so Motown promised them they’d get the same chance Diana Ross and Martha Reeves had been given, to cut their own potential R&B/pop hits – and with the white-hot Holland-Dozier-Holland team writing and producing, to boot. Instead, when Motown did deign to give them their own release, it wasn’t promoted, it wasn’t pressed up in big quantities, it barely made it out of Detroit, and – to add insult to injury – it wasn’t even properly an Andantes record. Not really.
For whatever reason, Motown decided that neither Louvain, Jackie nor Marlene should be entrusted with the lead vocal on their own record. Instead, the lead singer on this is none other than Ann Bogan, a former duet partner of Harvey Fuqua’s who’d followed Harvey to Motown and spent several years just kicking around, recording a few strong demos, staying on the books until she was eventually called upon to join the Marvelettes. (In a twist of irony, she ended up replacing Gladys Horton, who had herself fronted the Andantes on a similar side project, Too Hurt To Cry, Too Much In Love To Say Goodbye, credited to “the Darnells”.)
Ann does a decent job, a bit shrill and forceful for the song (which comes across a little like hack-work on HDH’s part, pretty much a straight cross (musically and lyrically) between Heat Wave and When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, a good pastiche but without any real inidividual personality of its own). Not a brilliant lead by any means, but it’s impossible not to wonder what one of the actual Andantes might have been able to do with it.
In fact, more than anything, I find myself wishing Martha Reeves had been available to sing lead on this one; Ann does okay and all, hits the right notes, but she’s not half the actress Martha is; this is a vocal showcase highlighting technical capabilities, rather than depths of understanding. Doubly galling for the Real Andantes (TM), not even allowed to show off their own vocal skills on their supposed big chance to shine; indeed, I’d make a strong argument that their (headlining) work on backing vocals here is markedly inferior to their (uncredited) work on backing vocals on other people’s records. Life can be a bitch sometimes.
For all of that, the record is a rollicking number, showing occasional flashes of the outstanding (the sax is good stuff, while organ and tambourine are on fire here), a bold R&B burner that’s highly danceable. It’s just that the song is very obviously a member – indeed, one of the last members – of a distinct dead-end branch of the HDH/Motown family tree from the second half of 1963 (a branch featuring Heat Wave, Quicksand, Live Wire, Lovelight, Too Hurt To Cry, the Marvelettes’ unreleased Knock On My Door, Holland-Dozier’s own unreleased Lead Me And Guide Me, etc etc) and it’s noticeably weaker – both as a song, and as a record – than any of those.
To rub more salt in the wound, Motown ensured this was essentially left to rot once it was recorded, apparently never seeing a proper release (though the liner notes for The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 4 says at least a few copies did make it to market). It’s now considered one of the rarest Motown singles; it received so little exposure that, as those liner notes say, “it may as well not have been issued at all”. The Andantes’ series of big compromises ended up having been for nothing in the greater scheme of things.
A kick in the teeth, then, but at least future listeners got a lively and engaging record out of the bargain; a mix of underhanded tricks and decent songcraft resulting in a pretty good dance record. That it’s no more than that is a pity both for collectors and for the future fame and reputation of the Andantes, but it’s no tragedy; this is thoroughly decent fare.
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!)
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|R. Dean Taylor
“If You Were Mine”
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