B-side of I’ll Be In Trouble
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
It’s tempting, at least from a songwriting and production point of view, to divide the glory days of the Temptations’ Motown career into two distinct phases: the Smokey phase of the mid-Sixties, and the Norman Whitfield phase of the late Sixties and early Seventies. It’s also tempting to think of the Holland-Dozier-Holland trio as a fixed team, a creative machine working round the clock to crank out timeless hits. As always, the truth is more complicated than that. Young Norman had started working with the Tempts at a very early stage in his career (and in theirs, for that matter), and before he struck up a late-Sixties songwriting partnership with Barrett Strong, his favoured writing partner was Edward Holland Jr., who somehow found enough time away from the HDH team to pursue this extracurricular activity. For a time, it looked as if Whitfield and Holland, rather than Smokey, would become the Temptations’ guiding force.
This is the first time we’ve seen Norman and Eddie working with the Tempts, though they’d previously cut the original version of I Couldn’t Cry If I Wanted To – a song later re-recorded by Eddie as a performer – which wouldn’t appear on a Motown 45 for another couple of years.
Right from the off, this is a statement of intent, a blaring trumpet intro leading straight into a driving, finger-snapping groove. As with so many of Motown’s best cuts from the spring of ’64, this one was released less than a month after being laid down, the company now turning around releases in record time as the Hitsville songwriters, producers, musicians and singers reacted to the sweeping musical changes going on at the time, building on the previous new thing by working it into the next new thing, which almost immediately became the previous new thing as someone else came up with more ideas, more refinements.
Unlike the A-side, Smokey’s I’ll Be In Trouble, an engaging but water-treading rehash of his previous The Way You Do The Things You Do, this B-side is definitely something new, the sort of thing the Temptations hadn’t really attempted before. It’s actually got more in common with My Guy, or the candy-coated steel-cored R&B/pop Spector pastiches HDH had turned in over the previous winter, than any of the Tempts’ previous upbeat numbers – even The Way You Do The Things You Do. It’s heading towards something softer, smoother; the tight R&B sound is still to the fore, but the pop influence that was always bubbling away in the mix is now a new kind of pop, something that not only incorporates shades of doo-wop, gospel and the blues, as before, but also rock & roll, jazz and teen pop.
Not to labour the point too much, but it’s hard to put a finger on how this differs from The Way You Do The Things You Do; Whitfield and Holland seem to have set out to make something in that mould, but it’s come out slightly different (not wrong exactly); more focussed but less direct, more complicated but easier on the ears. You can almost hear some of Holland’s cadences in the lead vocal of Eddie Kendricks (who claimed a co-writing credit on this), which makes me think Eddie H. at least demoed it for Eddie K., and certainly it’s got more of the HDH sound (in terms of tune) than Smokey’s hit, but Whitfield’s approach to production is different from either Smokey or Holland and Dozier, and that’s audible straight from the off.
The band track here really pops out of the speakers; not just that searing high trumpet at the very beginning, but the whole thing, which just crackles with energy and puts forth a loud, full sound, the lazing midtempo beat disguised by an arrangement that doesn’t waste a second, that can’t go without filling every available gap with a slew of instruments and backing vocals. Piano, guitars, bass, horns, BVs (the other Tempts don’t really feature in the verses beyond a low, semi-growled ooooooh (almost a hum) in the far distance behind Kendricks’ high falsetto lead, but they take up the heavy lifting in the chorus to splendid effect); all get their chance to shine on a busy-sounding number, a big production that feels rather more like a hit single than the A-side. (Indeed, this did manage to find its own way onto the charts, cracking the R&B Top 40 and only just missing out on creeping into the Hot 100, stalling at 102.)
Lyrically, it’s almost an answer record, a male response to My Guy, Kendricks’ narrator boasting about his girlfriend’s faithfulness in the face of a never-ending string of propositions from other men. Taken in that light, the lyrical failure to give the titular Girl any personality or description makes a bit more sense – America had already met her, hearing her side of the story almost half a million times by now.
Eddie K. can’t act as well as Mary Wells managed, and his vocal delivery is the weakest thing about the record – Norman Whitfield hadn’t yet mastered the secret of getting him to stay tethered to the earth, and so Kendricks’ very high falsetto loses sight of the tune a few times as he jets his way up to the roof. But the tune – which, now that I’m listening to it again, has more than a hint of swinging big band style to it even beyond the brassy instrumentation – is a good one, masking a lot of those flaws, and the chorus, which depends on the other Temptations to anchor Eddie’s high notes, sounds great.
Ultimately it isn’t as good a pop record as The Way You Do The Things You Do, and Whitfield and Holland weren’t quite finished with this concept yet – but it works a lot better than the topside, and would have made a stronger single. It’s certainly more of an indication of what lay ahead in the Tempts’ short-term future.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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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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“I’ll Be In Trouble”
“Hey Harmonica Man”
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