B-side of Midnight Johnny
(Written by Berry Gordy)
If the mean R&B shuffle of the A-side, Midnight Johnny, had somehow not been a crunching enough change of gears for fans of Liz Lands – a big-haired singer previously best-known for quasi-operatic gospel warbling – then this B-side would probably have muddied the waters even more. (If Liz Lands actually had any fans at the time, of course.)
This is a very pretty piece of piano-led balladry, aiming for the same beauty and power as Liz’ last foray into such territory, the staggering May What He Lived For Live. Motown boss Berry Gordy, who’d co-written that one and was solely responsible for this one, puts all the same ingredients together, right down to the simplistic, repetitive quasi-nursery rhyme structure. Liz and the band – and the Temptations, again pressed into service on backing vocals – get almost all of it right, too – but it’s too late.
Miss Lands’ Motown career was over almost before it had begun once her solitary jump into the forbidden country of the R&B charts turned out to be a dismal commercial flop. A shame, because she’s good here, there’s no denying it. Oh, she still swoops unexpectedly up the scale in a few places (most notably in the dying seconds of the fade out, when out of nowhere she suddenly belts right up to a glass-shattering high C), but the song’s airy, floaty feel absorbs most of the shock – and in any case she makes a real effort here to colour within the lines, staying with a soft, high delivery that has more than a shade of Diana Ross about it.
It’s a pretty, above-average pop ballad, and – compared to the blind avenue of the A-side – an interesting look at a possible Motown future Liz Lands never got to live out.
Instead, Liz had a completely unexpected career after her short time at Hitsville. This was her last Motown release as an artist (though watch this space, as we’re not quite done with her yet) – but she went on to rack up quite a catalogue of singles for various labels in the Sixties and Seventies, at one point ending up as lead singer on a bunch of Bohannon albums (following in the footsteps of fellow sometime Motown signing Carolyn Crawford). Here’s the strange thing: very few of those post-Motown Liz Lands records sound much like the Liz Lands we’ve heard here. Less pretensions to opera, less shrieking all over the register, just a bunch of restrained, slightly growly R&B and disco records. Youtube is quite poorly served in terms of examples, offering up only her sole One-der-ful! release, One Man’s Poison from 1967, and its B-side Don’t Shut Me Out which is more like the opera-ruined stuff we’ve looked at on this site).
But back to Keep Me, which is a nice note to bow out on. Repetitive, sure, almost cloyingly twee in places, but peppered with equally unforgettable moments – the in your loving arms, your loving arms around the one minute mark being my particular favourite, but there are plenty to pick from – and blessed with some excellent bluesy piano pinning the whole thing together.
If we were to disregard the astonishing heights of May What he Lived For Live, which is really a special case in a number of ways, then this would easily be the best record Liz Lands ever cut at Motown. As things stand, well, there are certainly much worse farewells in pop history.
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 Liz Lands? Click for more.)
“If You Were Mine”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.