(Written by Jimmy Curtis)
Bruce Channel (he of “Hey! Baby” fame) had struggled to follow up his mega-hit in the intervening two-and-a-half years, and when he arrived at Motown his career was already securely filed away in the folder marked “One Hit Wonders”.
Assigned to Motown’s Country & Western subsidiary Mel-o-dy Records (a strange choice, in hindsight), Channel’s Motown début, Satisfied Mind, had been a deliberate attempt to try something new. Something of a bold departure, it was met with complete indifference from the American record-buying public. Motown presumably reasoned (or at least hoped) that Satisfied Mind failed because it was too different from Hey! Baby, rather than the fans having simply moved on. After all, the Beatles’ Love Me Do – another harmonica-heavy “white blues” pop number from 1962 (and one that’s often cited as having been influenced by Channel and Hey! Baby in the first place, though the chronology makes this impossible) – had recently sailed to the top of the Hot 100.
The path was clear: Bruce would cut a new single which sounded as close to Hey! Baby as was humanly possible without actually becoming a cover version of the earlier hit. And thus, You Make Me Happy, Channel’s second and final Motown release, was born.
Two things immediately strike the listener before You Make Me Happy has even finished playing. The first is that it’s an absolute direct clone of Hey! Baby, seemingly working overtime to recreate it, as if slavishly following a formula. Every element from that record ends up on this one, to the point I found myself ticking things off an imaginary checklist.
(Seriously, it’s all here. Harmonica break? Check! Raucous middle eight? Check! Soaring melisma, stretching one syllable over several notes (you in place of hey)? Check! Almost identical tune? Check! But I digress.)
The second thing you notice is that it’s not anything like as good as Hey! Baby. Notwithstanding the years that have fallen into the gap, leaving aside how dated this must have seemed when it appeared, just playing the two records next to each other, this one is a pale imitation of that one. The guitars and the middle eight drag it upwards a bit, but it seems to slump back into its rut all too easily, as though Bruce and the musicians just don’t have the fight in them.
What we’re left with at the end is a pleasing but utterly inconsequential Hey! Baby knock-off. While it’s enjoyable enough in its own right – insofar as that can be judged, given that the shadow of the bigger hit looms large over every aspect of this record – it doesn’t really feel as though this could have been a beloved hit single in some weird alternate universe where Hey! Baby never existed.
This single stiffed, and Bruce’s time at Motown was through. Channel claims he wanted to stick around as a songwriter, but that Berry Gordy had already decided to scale back on the country stuff as his main product lines started selling, and Motown had no need for a writer in that particular bag. Whether that’s true or not, there would be no more Bruce Channel records on Motown, and Bruce would spend several years in the wilderness before troubling the charts again. A pity, because neither of his Motown efforts are outright bad, even if he never really got to show any real promise beyond that.
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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