Little had been heard from teenage talent contest winner Carolyn Crawford since her début Forget About Me almost a year previously. Now nearly 15, Carolyn finally saw a belated second Motown release with this glossy midtempo number, penned by several of Hitsville’s songwriting royalty and produced by Smokey Robinson.
The record was a surprise R&B hit, cracking the top 40 on the Cash Box chart, and this unexpectedly put young Carolyn in the frame to take over the Motown role left vacant by her heroine Mary Wells. The job eventually went to Kim Weston (although Brenda Holloway was also in contention), the most visible aspect of the “prize” being the chance to cut some duets with Marvin Gaye.
(Intriguing to wonder how a Marvin/Carolyn duets LP might have turned out; the age gap might have been insurmountable, but beyond that it could have been very interesting, and not least because Carolyn shares more than a few vocal traits with one Thomasina Winifred Montgomery, who – as “Tammi Terrell” – would go on to occupy pretty much Carolyn’s exact role in the Motown stable once Crawford had had enough. But I digress.)
Away from the increasingly confusing game of musical chairs being played out at Hitsville in the wake of Mary Wells’ departure, this didn’t just find a spot on the release schedules because Motown were testing out potential female solo stars; it got released because it’s obviously very good. It’s a summation in some ways of mid-1964, of this first summer of Motown’s Golden Age, of everything that was going on at Hitsville beyond the increasingly frequent big hit singles: the band and the “little people” toiling in the shadows and producing high-quality, scarcely-remembered material like this.
There’s more than a hint of Dionne Warwick’s then-current hit version of Walk On By about My Smile…, likely an intentional musical wink even if the two songs ultimately don’t end up all that similar. Certainly there’s nothing here to rival the haunting chords and dramatic isolation of the chorus of Bacharach and David’s song, but then these three writers – again, three of Motown’s best writers – were trying to do something a bit different, and there are several hooks here to get stuck into the listener.
First off, the lyrics sound like pure Smokey, regardless of who actually wrote them. There’s a line about Pagliacci here, which Smokey would quote almost verbatim on a rather more famous song a few years later (“Just like Pagliacci did / I’ll keep my sadness hid”), imagery borrowed from the Fifties standard I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over, as covered by Marvin Gaye back in 1961. The notion of hiding one’s true feelings, smiling through the pain, is one that Smokey would keep going back to time and time again, because it’s very effective – it remains so here, and it’s not Carolyn’s fault that the line now brings a modern listener up short because they’re thinking about The Tears of a Clown.
Lyrical trainspotting aside, everyone else is on good form, too. Carolyn again turns in a great performance of surprising maturity – this lead vocal absolutely doesn’t sound as though she was only fourteen years old, in terms of technique or emotional approach. (Compare and contrast her confident, assured delivery of the Pagliacci line to e.g. the similarly-aged Stevie Wonder’s contemporary efforts – there’s a gulf there that sounds almost unbridgeable.)
There’s a fine band performance, too, with some really nice bright plucked guitar figures shimmering between lines, and a rich choral backing; even a slightly hesitant vibes solo ends up adding to the atmosphere. If it’s hard to escape the nagging feeling that the chorus isn’t quite the knockout blow lined up by the verses, this is still a good record and I’m not surprised it found commercial favour of a sort.
As we’ll see the next time we meet Carolyn Crawford, not getting the plum gig as Mary Wells’ readymade replacement was the beginning of the end of her stay at Motown (she’d have just one more single before leaving the company for good). Still, she left some fine sides (and, reportedly, a lot more recordings remain in the vaults), enough to suggest she could have been a major talent. Even if that’s a stretch, it’s certainly plausible she might have become another Brenda Holloway, Barbara McNair – or Tammi Terrell. In the absence of that alternate-universe career, this will have to do, and it’s not half bad.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
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“I’ll Come Running”
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