Motown didn’t know how they were going to deal with the departure of Mary Wells. The label put a brave face on it in public, press statements generally taking a stance along the lines of “we don’t need her, we’ve got the Supremes”, but behind closed doors, things were a bit less assured. The plan seems to have been to bring through a direct replacement, a battlefield promotion for some lucky female solo act who would inherit Mary’s material, Mary’s promotional push, Mary’s duet project with Marvin Gaye, and – hopefully – Mary’s sales.
Just a few days after Carolyn Crawford’s My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down) hit the street, Motown greenlit another 45 from another female solo turn who’d previously been sidelined. (Surely the sound of bets being hedged – for Motown to pit two prospects against each other like this in a potentially mutually-damaging head-to-head contest was a rather strange move.)
This was a third Motown single for big-voiced Agatha “Kim” Weston, but her first in nearly ten months, during which time she’d seen her place in the Hitsville pecking order slip steadily backward. After scoring an unexpected but excellent hit with Love Me All The Way a year and a half previously, she’d struggled to replicate that success with the follow-up Just Loving You, and her status as Possible Next Big Thing had apparently been shelved. Like Carolyn Crawford, Kim had reason to be grateful that Mary Wells’ sudden absence presented her with a window of opportunity.
That Kim ended up winning the New Mary role, over Carolyn and (apparently) Brenda Holloway, is a matter of record; it probably prolonged her Motown career and saw a few more great singles we might never otherwise have had, and so for that we too should be grateful. But there’s the definite appearance of Motown playing with a stacked deck. Not only was Kim due to be married to the label’s A&R director Mickey Stevenson, which raised questions of nepotism, but someone at Motown seems to have been pushing her cause ahead of other candidates.
This is a direct, brazen attempt to position Kim as the New Mary in the minds of the public, suggesting a decision had already been reached; Looking For The Right Guy is a virtual note-for-note rewrite of Wells’ mega-hit My Guy, from the same writer and producer. The fact that it wasn’t a hit (where Carolyn’s single had been, incidentally), and the equally important fact that it flat out just doesn’t work, were apparently seen as being of no significance.
Most sources list this as “obviously” being Smokey’s custom-made sequel to My Guy, intended as a follow-up for Wells herself, but there’s no evidence to suggest Mary was ever offered this.
There are good arguments both ways. Mary’s two follow-up singles had already been scheduled by Motown, catalogue numbers and all, when she left the company, and neither of them was Looking For The Right Guy (indeed, neither of them was really much like My Guy at all), so it seems unlikely that Motown would have changed their minds and fast-tracked a replacement soundalike sequel as a follow-up instead.
Plus, this would have been a particularly brazen example of the practice, even by Motown’s standards – it’s virtually the exact same song, and thus in Wells’ hands it would have made something of a pointless exercise (shades of Edwin Starr’s similarly-redundant Stop The War Now in 1970).
In the other column, this was written and produced by Smokey Robinson, acknowledged master of matching voice to material, and it seems barely credible Smokey would have written Kim a bespoke new song like this one which required her to sing so far outside her comfort zone (unless Motown had demanded it to strengthen the Kim-as-Mary connection, I suppose).
Whatever the case, Kim struggles terribly with singing this one. Possibly the best female vocalist Motown had on their books at the time, she just wasn’t this kind of singer – the uptempo numbers among her later triumphs are all the sort of thing that let her cut loose, display her power and strength, really cut into the material. This, by contrast, is a bouncy, sugary little thing that requires Kim to emulate Mary’s smoky semi-spoken contralto, wrapping her tongue around Smokey’s quickfire syllables, clipping her notes and thereby clipping her wings.
You can hear traces of the Kim we’ve already come to know and love whenever the song sounds like it’s about to let her soar – the middle eight, cut and pasted directly from My Guy and pitched higher and louder than the rest of the song (“He’ll have to be / A man of quality”) is a highlight, because it lets her sound a bit more like herself – but for the rest of it, she doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself very much, her own special voice overshadowed and even in places drowned out, both by the arrangement and by the Andantes (who are on fine form, but whose voices just don’t properly blend wih Kim’s). It’s not her fault, but you can almost hear her frustration.
But it’s not just a poor match of vocalist and material; this would have been a mistake even if it had been given to Mary Wells, a misjudged attempt to take the perfectly-balanced love and devotion from My Guy a step further, casting the narrator not as someone who’s in love, but as a recently-single woman who’s seeking love, listing her requirements for the perfect man (essentially anyone who’ll be faithful, Kim coming a hair’s breadth from saying she’s prepared to settle, hence a hurried clarification that she is still looking for someone special and “not just any Tom, Dick or Harry”).
The song ends up as a mess, resulting in such shining feminist sentiments as I could spend my whole life long cooking for the right guy… loving him is my fate, which don’t sit well with the satisfied happiness of the backing track (an unbalanced retread of the one from My Guy, cleaner and crisper but much less warm and affectionate, somehow more mechanical).
Really not very good at all, a stark example of what happens when you try to squeeze a big-voiced R&B star vocalist into a pop framework cut to someone else’s measurements – but that’s not to overlook the fact the song itself isn’t very good either. Luckily for Kim, and for all music fans, Motown wouldn’t hold this against her, and they wouldn’t try this again.
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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“I’ll Come Running”
“Feel Alright Tonight”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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