(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
The curtain came down on the solo recording career of Edward Holland Jr. with this, his eleventh and final Motown single, after which he would retire from performing and concentrate solely on (better-paid) life as a songwriter.
Eddie’s performing career has always (understandably) been overshadowed by his writing role; as one-third of the greatest songwriting team ever assembled, his smattering of respectable early-Sixties R&B chart hits as a singer tends to be overlooked. Only now, in 2012, at the tail-end of the CD era, is his solo work even being properly anthologised (the long-awaited compilation, It Moves Me: The Complete Recordings 1958-1964, arrives just too late to be taken into account on Motown Junkies, but on the strength of the other recent entries in the superb Ace/Kent series, it’s not to be missed.)
You kind of have to wonder if his recorded output might strangely be held in higher regard if Eddie had never put pen to paper, or if these records were the work of some unknown third Holland brother. (Something like The Complete Marv Holland has a good ring to it.) But ultimately, I don’t really think so. Pending the wealth of unreleased tapes on that forthcoming compilation, Eddie’s oeuvre as-is stands as a fun collection of curios and a handful of gems, sung by a handsome would-be teen idol with a Jackie Wilson voice and a nice way with a tune.
All well and good, but not necessarily the stuff of legends. Listening to his last bow, Candy To Me, throws it all into sharp perspective; however good he might be on this side of the glass, he was better off behind it, and he knew it, too.
Eddie’s previous single, the magnificent Just Ain’t Enough Love, had been a huge step forward in the development of what’s now familiarly called the Motown Sound. It’s a superb pop song, with the musicians locked into a sensational, unique-sounding groove that’s undeniably different from what had gone before, both inside and outside of Motown: somehow smoother, poppier and yet still driving and engaging. Since then, the Holland-Dozier-Holland team had refined the formula yet further, upping the ante with the Supremes’ even more magnificent Where Did Our Love Go, a superb pop song with the musicians locked into a sensational, unique-sounding groove etc etc. So when you see the H-D-H team writing this brand-new follow-up single for Eddie, considered so hot it had to hit the stores ASAP (it was released within a couple of weeks of its being recorded), you can’t help but get excited as to what delights are going to be on the record.
But this isn’t just a step backward, it’s a juddering stumble that ignores all the lessons that have been learned and instead rewinds everything twelve months. Oh, it’s still lots of fun – the band sound great, the drums and bass are outstanding, the Andantes on backing vocals have rarely sounded sassier, and the overall impression is a fine little pop single – but a single Marvin Gaye might have cut in the tail-end of 1963.
It’s a busy arrangement, kept in the air by a piledriving 4/4 rhythm augmented with loads of infills and handclaps and horns, and – as I said above – it sounds super. But the lyrics (written by Eddie, of course) don’t really fit the mood, being all about how content and happy the narrator is because his girl’s so sweet (like candy, or like sugar, and so on), a celebratory sentiment requiring no urgency in its explanation to the listener; the band track’s all set up to make Eddie’s case and win over some lucky girl, except there’s no case to make, no winning over to be done. Eddie opts to go with the basking satisfaction of the lyrics rather than the pleading drive of the music, and gives a gentle, wavering vocal performance (lots of notes tapering off mid-syllable, as though he’s so laid back and nonchalant it’s a struggle to force the words out) that contrasts so sharply with the arse-kicking backing track that the record never really locks into the kind of effortless groove those other records seemed to manage so breezily. Even when we get a sudden break (at 1:10) where Eddie goes almost acapella over a pattern of foot-stomps lifted directly from Where Did Our Love Go, I’d still never have put these two records in the right order, never have guessed this one came after that one.
(It’s hard to describe, but it’s sort of like the difference between Heat Wave and Stop! In The Name Of Love: both brilliant, but one somehow sounds like harder work than the other, as though the musicians are giving it 110% and producing amazing work, but having to sweat blood to do it – as though they hadn’t quite got their near-telepathic sense of understanding yet, or something. With Candy To Me, it’s a similar sort of thing (not that this is anywhere near as good as Heat Wave, mind you) but the Funk Brothers are on fire and it’s hard to criticise too much – it’s more that it all feels a bit less magical, for want of a better word, at least to me at any rate. I’m aware I seem to be doing this record down because the musicians weren’t able to read each other’s minds, but that’s not really it. It’s more like the musicians are again having to run themselves down to get these results, having great fun with the backing singers, but Eddie’s not wholly sure what record he’s wandered into or where it’s all going, despite having co-written the thing; there’s almost a sense of him having been left behind, a nice metaphor for what was happening to his Motown career as a whole. But I digress.)
This isn’t as good as Just Ain’t Enough Love, as a song or a performance. It’s still fun, though, skating along on its thin lyrical metaphor – hard not to start singing along, and the unexpected interjectory bits (Sugar plum! Here I come!) always raise a smile. But I can’t help but feel that, had Eddie been dead set on continuing his performing career, it might have been a challenge for Motown to find an appropriate place for him in their brave new world, however much Just Ain’t Enough Love had hinted otherwise.
As it turned out, of course, Eddie was absolutely fed-up with performing, and it’s hard for me not to hear some of that disillusionment in this record. Quoted in the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 4, Eddie leaves us in no doubt as to what a chore this was for him:
“I had already made up my mind [to stop performing] years ago. It’s just that I’ve always been one of those kind of people where I don’t like quitting something in half-stream, you know? I wanted to get two or three more hit records, and then I was through with singing. ‘Cause I really didn’t want to do it.”
Maybe I’m being wise after the event, but I do think it comes across, too. He’s not having enough fun with this to really sell it (in any sense of the word), and I get the feeling that Eddie may have felt Candy To Me was a perfectly respectable note upon which to bow out gracefully and leave the performing to newer, hungrier, better singers.
If so, he was absolutely right; this is a good little pop song that never pulls up any trees, a strangely muted but still wholly enjoyable goodbye from a man who never wanted to be a star in the first place.
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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“You Never Looked Better”
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