B-side of Devil With The Blue Dress
Like Andre Williams before him, Shorty Long was such a unique individual – full of what we’ll call “character”, for want of a better word – that you never knew quite what you were going to get when you put one of his records on the turntable. And when that record turns out to be a relatively straightforward, throwaway dance number like Wind It Up, it feels like something of a waste.
Because really – and again, there are parallels with Andre Williams here – when the resulting record could almost have been recorded by anybody, well, isn’t that kind of missing the point of being Shorty Long in the first place? Motown was often criticised for treating its artists as interchangeable – acts who could take a song written for one artist and do just as good a job with it themselves, given the right producer. While I’ve always thought this was overly simplistic, and that it’s relatively rare to find an instance of a completely pointless in-house Jobete cover (most reinterpretations adding something new, interesting or regrettable to the mix), it’s nonetheless noticeable that even when Motown got into the swing of having several artists cut the same song in succession, Shorty’s material was usually left standing alone; there was only one Shorty. That’s why, to me, when I come across something like Wind It Up, as loose and raw and raucous as it wants to be, it all still feels too… Conventional, is the word I think I’m looking for.
I’m being overly harsh, of course – this is just a B-side, rather than a grand statement of intent. It’s really little more than a scribble, recorded at the Greystone Ballroom with two of Shorty’s old Harvey/Tri-Phi colleagues, Harvey Fuqua and Gwen Gordy Fuqua, producing and co-writing respectively. In that sense, it’s kind of a throwback to Shorty’s earlier days, a last Tri-Phi effort rather than something harking to Long’s future at Motown – and there’s nothing wrong with that, not really. It’s all nice enough by its own standards, an uptempo dancer that’s pretty unobjectionable; the chorus is fun, with its crescendo of ascending backing vocals (Higher! Higher! Yeah yeah yeah yeah!)… catch it when you’re in the right mood, it’ll bring a great big smile to your face.
So what’s my problem? It comes back to Andre Williams, I guess. Back in 1961, Williams, the controversial, colourful mastermind behind Bacon Fat and The Greasy Chicken had pitched up at Motown as a writer, producer and artist – but for his one and only Motown release, Williams ended up cutting Rosa Lee (Stay Off The Bell), a tired ten-a-penny rockabilly number the company could have hired pretty much anyone to record. Fast forward three years, and up steps Shorty Long, another unique character, and the feeling I get playing Wind It Up is very similar to that I felt playing Rosa Lee (Stay Off The Bell): it’s much better than Williams’ record, for sure, but really, pretty much anyone could have recorded this.
Perfectly capable, enjoyable R&B dance fluff that gets the job done without pulling up any trees; it’s only really the name on the label that marks this out as any kind of disappointment, but ultimately that’s what it ends up being. Sorry, Shorty.
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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“Devil With The Blue Dress”
“Every Little Bit Hurts”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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