B-side of You Make Me Happy
(Written by Howard Hausey and John Whitten)
All of Bruce Channel’s previous Motown efforts (and indeed his pre-Motown efforts) have been rockabilly-pop fare, with a definite seasoning of R&B flavour, such that it’s often seemed strange that Channel was shunted off to Motown’s country subsidiary Mel-o-dy Records. Here, on the flipside of his second and final Motown release, as if to redress that balance, our Bruce dials the Country & Western right the way up.
Given the writing credit for Howard “Crockett” Hausey on this one, you’d expect You Never Looked Better to be on the gentler, poppier side of country, and you’d be dead right. This is something akin to a country show tune: plinky piano intro, Tennessee Three standup bass, fiddles all over it like ants at a picnic. A soft, pleasant tune, quite pretty but rather lacking in musical edge; I don’t know where it’s aiming, but it ends up landing somewhere between Conway Twitty and Jess Conrad.
Actually, that’s a bit unfair, as there’s a really interesting melody to the first line of each verse (…I just got the news today…) and the third line of the chorus (when Bruce laments …nothing HAD really changed…), but the rest of the tune isn’t up to that standard. For the most part it’s bland, buttery stuff, designed to get on the radio in Arkansas.
Bruce’s voice – so well-suited to the driving, banging harmonica-driven dancefloor stuff that had some listeners mistake him for black – is also singularly ill at ease here. There’s a kind of tremulous weakness to it, which – like Jimmy Ruffin a couple of reviews ago – seems to crumple when confronted by the more dynamic musicians, coming across as wounded (which the lyric calls for) and whimpering (which it doesn’t).
Where this gets most interesting is the lyrics, which pitch our Bruce as a jilted boyfriend turning up at the same party as his ex and realising he hasn’t been able to successfully shut off his feelings for her; the song is like an unposted love letter, conceived either as a bid to win her back or (less ambitiously) a bid to seem grown-up about the whole thing, politely complimenting her on her appearance even though he’s palpably desperate to ask her out again.
It’s all rather nicely done, but the Motown landscape it was emerging into had changed beyond recognition, and competent sideline fare (such as these country numbers) were now a distraction rather than a potential cash cow. Mel-o-dy Records was already not long for this world, and when Motown shut down their country subsidiary less than a year later, Bruce too would be out the door. Still, there have been worse goodbyes, that’s for sure.
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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“You Make Me Happy”
“Candy To Me”
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