B-side of Dancing In The Street
B-side of Dancing In The Street
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
When Motown exhumed this very early Vandellas track for use on the flip of what turned out to be the group’s biggest-selling single, it did them something of a disservice. Not that it’s bad or anything – but as an advertisement, a teaser for any listeners somehow unfamiliar with the girls’ work before the Dancing In The Street radio juggernaut, it’s unfair. Even in 1964, this was already an artefact from the distant past, in a number of ways.
Originally recorded by the Vandellas two years previously, with Gloria Jean Williamson on lead vocals (predating Martha Reeves’ promotion to frontwoman), this song had already seen service as a B-side when it appeared credited to ‘the Vells’ back in the autumn of 1962. Back then, it had fit quite well with the putative Motown Sound of the time – a kind of midtempo, bongo-driven, calypso-tinged pop balladry whose most successful exponents were Mary Wells and the Marvelettes. Penned by the then-hot writing team of Holland-Dozier-Gorman (though some sources credit the song to Gorman and Eddie Holland, a mistake according to ASCAP), it was a pretty song, definitely above-average fare, and featuring some superb backing vocals – but Gloria’s voice didn’t really gel with the rest of the record, and the whole thing ended up sounding a bit disjointed as a result.
When Gloria left the group shortly after recording the original version of There He Is and Martha Reeves became the full-time leader, someone at Motown decided Martha should overdub her vocals over the top of the old Vells backing track; the resulting song was included on the Vandellas’ début LP, Come And Get These Memories (left), in 1963. At this point, it could just about hold its own with the likes of the more polished, cohesive title track, which presented a rather different Motown Sound to that featured here.
It’s still a difficult song to sing; Martha does her best to put her own take on it, Miss Reeves emulating some of Gloria’s wilder swoops while adding the awesome throaty drive of her best later work, but she still can’t really own the thing and push it right up there. Perhaps I’m unduly influenced by knowing this is a secondhand track, but Martha’s grip on the song never quite seems firm enough, as though it’s frayed from a rope to a thread that’s going to slip through her fingers at any second. And quite what the group’s newfound fans made of this one suddenly resurfacing here, in 1964, a badly-timed throwback issued right in the middle of Motown’s Golden Summer and sent into a million unsuspecting homes, is anyone’s guess.
(I talk about the group’s fans, but really the group themselves – going through a lineup change at the time of release, the effects which would largely keep them out of the studio for most of the summer – might have been equally bemused. Certainly they’d moved on just as much as everyone else at Motown in the intervening two years, as evinced not only by the A-side but also by the stomping 4/4 HDH would-be smash hit Jimmy Mack, already recorded by the time this single was released but inexplicably canned for three years instead.)
But then, everything I said about the Vells’ version still stands too – the backing vocals from the other Vandellas (here including Martha herself, which takes some getting used to!) still sound fantastic, and the song itself is only that hair’s breadth away from excellence. (The Baby, baby, baby, walk on in! bit in particular was magnificent two years earlier, and it’s still magnificent here.) The track’s been tidied up a little bit from the Vells version, too, with the terrible “knocking” sound effect thankfully removed to the dustbin of history, while everything else sounds just that little bit clearer and sharper.
It just still doesn’t quite feel right to me, and while I’m loath to criticise something for a perceived failing I don’t even properly understand, I can’t escape the feeling that the vocal and the track still don’t properly agree with each other, even here at the second time of asking. Still pretty, though.
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!)
Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- The Vells (October 1962)
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