B-side of I’ll Always Love You
(Written by Frank Wilson)
Following her previous effort, the strange and tantalising Land Of A Thousand Boys, this is a second cracking B-side in a row from Brenda Holloway. Sure, it’s another slow-paced ballad, just as all four of her Motown tracks have been so far – but it’s also a bolder choice than that bald description makes it sound. This is a huge, belting march-like number based around a clipped drum loop and a lolloping, blaring horn figure, and Brenda absolutely on fire throughout; a record that demands your attention and duly gets it.
There are big, ominous pounding piano chords at the start of this one, providing a small but recognisable link to the A-side I’ll Always Love You which starts out in the same way – but after that, the two tracks go haring off in totally different directions. I’ll Always Love You is a thing of weeping regal beauty, Sad Song – despite the title – is a far more boisterous and confrontational proposition.
That horn riff – which underpins the whole song – is the first clue, something more akin to a military parade than the doleful dirge the title might conjure up, and combined with the relentless steady beat it gives Sad Song something of the flavour of a march. It’s a great band track, but it’s only there as backing for Brenda, who gives her biggest, loudest performance to date, a melismatic delivery of remarkable power and scarcely controlled aggression.
Unlike the remarkable A-side, which was a specially-commissioned new recording, Sad Song was lifted from Brenda’s hastily-assembled LP Every Little Bit Hurts (left), her one and only Motown album. Recording for the LP was completed in very short order, and perhaps as a result Brenda’s vocal here seems much less rehearsed than on our previous encounters on Motown Junkies; from someone who had spent three 7″ sides showing off her exquisite vocal control, this is a far less inhibited affair, and the effect is immediately riveting.
The “Sad Song” in the title, you see, doesn’t refer to this song at all. Rather, Sad Song is Brenda’s angry, wounded reflection on a great relationship that’s just spectacularly imploded due to some unspecified but freely-admitted fuck-up on her part. The song is her exhortation to the listener (a friend? a bartender? a bandleader?) to keep on playing the same maudlin breakup song, since the happy stuff just isn’t getting it done for her:
…I’m left behind
With no-one to care, no-one to share
The misery that I brought upon myself
I’m so lonely and I’m so blue…
So let that sad song play just one more time
There’s nothing I could say that could ease my mind…
I say “Brenda”, when I should of course speak of “the narrator” – she is after all only playing a part here – but she inhabits the role with such ferocity that it’s hard to remember that. She sounds really, genuinely angry (at herself and everyone else) about the way things have turned out – I like the “bartender” explanation the best, imagining Brenda getting progressively more and more drunk in some bar somewhere (her story both repeats and contradicts itself in places), but it works just as well if she’s meant to be on the sofa at home, or outside her ex-boyfriend’s house at four o’clock in the morning.
Whatever’s going on, she takes out a fair amount of that anger on the listener; when, at 1:44, she starts positively screaming WHY DON’T YOU WHY DON’T YOU WHY DON’T YOU, you instinctively want to do it straight away. It’s perhaps ironic that on a record with such ostensibly regimented (pun intended) lines, Brenda makes no real attempt to colour inside them – but the result is a much stronger record, in its way as stark an illustration of the pain and frustration of the recently-dumped as Mary Wells’ Oh Little Boy (What Did You Do To Me), not as entertaining but almost as remarkable.
A super record, dripping with bitter ferocity; considering the tender loveliness of the A-side, this is very much the other side of Brenda Holloway in every sense, but no worse for it. Vivid and unforgettable.
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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“I’ll Always Love You”
“When I’m Gone”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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