(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
Before I get to talking about this record, a quick aside: Motown Junkies has been shortlisted for the “Best Music & Entertainment Blog” category at the 2011 Wales Blog Awards, an unexpected but very pleasant surprise. Thanks everyone!
And now, back to Eddie Holland.
Eddie’s performing career was almost over – this was his penultimate Motown single before he retired to concentrate full-time on songwriting. It’s often cited as one of the great Motown ironies, Eddie giving up as a singer just as his records were starting to make waves on the singles charts again. But he never enjoyed performing, and Motown had no shortage of young would-be stars queueing up behind him, all jockeying for limited space on the release schedules. He only seems to have kept going for as long as he did out of a grim determination to prove he could do the business as a singer; once he’d finally managed to follow up 1961’s Jamie with another smattering of hit records, his work on this side of the glass was done.
Still, before he quit, he left us Just Ain’t Enough Love, and I’m certainly glad of it. This is Eddie’s best solo record, a key piece of both the Holland-Dozier-Holland story and the quest for the mythical “Motown Sound”, as well as a corking pop single in its own right.
This is in many ways the first recognisably HDH production, the sound that would become the bread and butter of Motown’s Golden Age, the time between 1964 and 1967 when you could instantly identify a Motown record. One of the earliest appearances of the trademark 4/4 pop beat, accented by handclaps, guitar and piano, all underpinned by horns, thudding bass and the cooing backing vocals of the Andantes… it’s all here.
That Golden Age sound – now so familiar as to be called “the Motown Sound” without further explanation – gave Motown’s writers, producers, musicians and artists a kind of iconography to work with, a structure that everyone understood without ever seeing the formal rules written down. All of Motown’s mid-Sixties pop records would be defined by this standard structure, whether they followed it, found new ways to work within it, or outright rebelled against it. But its presence was impossible to ignore, always there in the background. You could pick up a Motown record without ever hearing it, and just know you were likely going to get something pretty good.
That’s a double-edged sword, of course – there have always been those who criticise Motown’s mid-Sixties pop output as being too samey or safe (Phil Spector going as far as accusing Motown of releasing the same record each week with slightly different EQ levels), and it’s true that there’s not a lot to distinguish the best Motown productions of mid- to late-1964 from those of two and a half years later. But for me, that’s one of the joys of Motown, and one of the reasons I started doing this blog; the productions are related, rather than identical. The basic blocks are there, but they’re just the foundations, it still takes some special magic to build a great single atop those foundations, and in the mid-Sixties, Motown had that magic in spades.
Sure, there are set parameters to work within, but that makes it all about the song, all about the performances; like an exercise in seeing just what you can do with the same few basic ingredients, the focus moves to the chefs and the diners, not the guy who delivered the vegetables. And the results are extraordinary, such that you can’t help but be struck by the astonishing quality threshold of mid-Sixties Motown. There’s just an incredible body of work, a massive canon of classic pop songs, a well of new stuff to discover which never seems to be in danger of running dry (even now, getting on for fifty years later, there are still previously-unheard tapes and acetates being unearthed which could have rocked the Top Ten had they been released back in the day). If you don’t thrill to Golden Age Motown, then the chances are you just don’t like pop music all that much.
Here, Eddie Holland and his partners seem to have almost stumbled upon the secret by accident. Recorded less than three weeks before it was released, this is another step forward from Smokey’s My Guy in establishing those parameters. Eddie’s previous single, the pounding Leaving Here, had been an attempt to write a frantic dance hit, but it owed more to early-Sixties rock and electric blues sounds than to anything from the pop world, and its approach to creating an energetic, high-tempo attack – rooted in the raw, masculine tropes of hard blues, Stax-esque proto-soul and bar-room rock – marked it out as being a product of its time.
Eddie had disliked the speed of Leaving Here, jokingly chiding Lamont Dozier for scuppering the single’s chances of climbing the charts by doing it all too fast, but the truth is that Leaving Here is immediately identifiable as a number from a time when all cuts could be categorised into “sweet” or “hot”, and ultimately it wasn’t pop enough to make the grade in the weird atmosphere that prevailed in the winter of 1963. Just Ain’t Enough Love, on the other hand, is noticeably different; straight away, we know this is something new. Slower but more energetic, smoother but more urgent, softer but more danceable, somehow both sweeter and hotter.
The difference is all about approach. My Guy is quieter and more gentle than Leaving Here, but it’s twice as powerful; HDH, who never let a good idea get past them, must have been paying attention, and here they set about adapting that power for their own purposes. By stirring up a heady stew of musical elements – crotchet notes, steady 4/4 beat, rich horns, lush female BVs, gospel touches, semi-improvised basslines, lead vocals allowed to roam free off the beat – the record (any record) ends up with a relentless, unstoppable rhythm, almost regardless of tempo. Give it a strong tune with a killer hook like this one, and bingo! – you’ve got yourself a Motown single.
History gives us a different perspective on this record than would have been apparent at the time; listening to Just Ain’t Enough Love through the filter of a hundred classic Motown hits, it’s those later hits we hear, and not the various influences that led to this point. For an audience in April 1964, without any knowledge of what was going to happen next, perhaps the differences between this and, say, Come And Get These Memories wouldn’t have seemed so pronounced; or perhaps they’d have seemed even greater.
Historical significance, historical schmignificance. What’s it like? It’s splendid. Eddie, who always seemed too dapper, too polite to be a hip-shaking R&B star, is in his element in these more refined surroundings, his mannered diction and unusual phrasing carried by that non-stop backbeat and those gliding horns, his little acts of rebellion in the form of vocal jazz stylings (THESE are the words my baby spoke… SO SURE this would satisfy!) carried by the Andantes’ beautiful rolling oooohs and their rougher, earthier call-and-response chants of Just ain’t enough love!, sharply punctuating any left-over preciousness. The whole mix suits Eddie’s voice and delivery better than anything he’d ever done before; by the time we get to the second chorus and Eddie abandons the main vocal line entirely, freestyling muttered asides as the Andantes carry the tune, we know he’s enjoying himself, and that’s always fun to hear – as with several of Eddie’s best cuts, you can actually hear the smile on his face.
It’s a nice lyric, too, Eddie recounting how his girlfriend left him because their relationship just wasn’t right, accepting his fate rather than moping – not in public, anyway – but providing the whole thing as a cautionary tale should any foolish lovers be taking their partners for granted. As with so many of HDH’s mid-Sixties pop masterworks, the anguish of the lyric plays against the bouncy, upbeat rhythms of the music, a trick which increases rather than diminishes the impact, with the indefinable sense of longing in the tune forming a kind of bond between the two.
It’s really just a lovely record, and it was a deserved hit, albeit a minor one (just missing the R&B Top 30 and the pop Top 50 respectively); a few more of these and Eddie would be set, if not as a superstar then at least as a respectable performer with a decent fanbase, healthy sales and the potential for a lifetime of oldies shows. But it wasn’t what he wanted, and it wasn’t what he was best at.
This song would have worked just as well for the Temptations, or the Four Tops, or Marvin Gaye (or, indeed, the Isley Brothers, as we’ll see at a later date); oh, make no mistake, Eddie does very well with it, but my point is that Motown already had several guys who could sing a few more of these, while guys who could write some more of these were in short supply. And, of course, guys who could write were paid better than guys who could sing.
Eddie was one of the sharpest and shrewdest of Motown’s cast of behind-the-scenes genii – he’d originally wheedled his way into the writing team set up by his brother Brian and his friend Lamont Dozier with their friend Freddie Gorman precisely because he’d worked out where the bigger numbers on the royalty cheques were going – and he had no wish to try and combine the two sides of his career as Smokey Robinson had managed. As a result, Just Ain’t Enough Love stands alone as a reminder of something that might have been, a songwriting milestone rather than the beginning of a string of classics for Eddie Holland the performer. There wasn’t even a new B-side to go with this one, Motown instead going to Eddie’s back catalogue and making the baffling selection of Last Night I Had A Vision, a two-year-old MOR ballad, to back it up.
But don’t let that take away from how good this is. Short and sweet (just over two minutes), this is nonetheless as perfect an encapsulation of everything Motown had been working towards all of these years as we’ve yet seen, and more importantly it just happens to be a great pop single to boot. The best thing Eddie Holland ever recorded as a performer, even if he understandably never tried to better it.
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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