b/w Out To Get You
B-side of Out To Get You
(Released in the UK through EMI/Tamla Motown)
It’s ironic, in a way, that the last single we covered here on Motown Junkies was Bread Winner, which was both the last bow for the label’s resident blues man “Singin'” Sammy Ward, and also the last Motown 45 written or produced by insanely-talented loose cannon Andre Williams. With both of them gone, there was a real hole at the heart of Motown’s lineup – but it was readily filled by another artist bent on doing his own thing and nothing else. If Frederick Earl Long wasn’t exactly a direct replacement for either Sammy or Andre, he was still a welcome breath of fresh air, an agreeably disreputable presence who remained difficult to categorise. Difficult to market, too, more’s the pity, but luckily that didn’t stop him releasing plenty of killer cuts across eight singles and two albums. Shorty Long was the man.
Shorty had been inherited by Motown when Berry Gordy took over the Tri-Phi and Harvey labels, and he’d had the honour of launching the new Soul Records imprint (for now aimed squarely at black radio, and black audiences who’d lost their connection with the increasingly pop-minded Motown empire). His Soul début, the slinky Devil With The Blue Dress, had packaged him as something like a blues artist – but he was much more versatile than that, not really fitting readily into any pre-labelled box.
This is a more accessible proposition than Devil With The Blue Dress, bouncier and tougher, infinitely more ambitious, still unmistakeably born of the blues but with a big ol’ swig of hip-shaking R&B stirred in for good measure. As a statement of intent, an introduction to Shorty Long for curious onlookers, it’s pretty much right on the money.
Like so many of the best Motown records, this one not only gets better the more times you hear it, it gets better the longer it goes on. And it starts out strongly enough – drums, sparse guitars, bass, and the record’s defining feature, a choir of unidentified male backing singers looping their clipped refrain (it sounds like do you? Why-do-do you?, but it could just be doo-wop harmony noises for all I know), taut and immaculately produced; like I said, it’s a statement.
But then Shorty arrives, and he’s instantly the star of the show; the wry, wisecracking pipsqueak we met on Devil With The Blue Dress replaced by a guy who knows he’s the centre of attention; he’s the coolest man in the joint and he wants us all to gather round while he asks his no-good girlfriend a series of rhetorical questions. It’s Marvin Gaye’s Can I Get A Witness through a fug of stale beer, barbecue and secondhand smoke, Gaye’s energetic pleading replaced by Shorty’s much slower delivery, a mixture of bitter smirk and throaty blues bawl, punctured with long pauses while Long knowingly arches his eyebrows.
Which isn’t to say this lacks energy; Shorty has his audience in the palm of his hand as he regales them with his story (it’s all told in the second person, but there’s little doubt it’s not actually for the benefit of the supposed target; no, she’s not actually here, and if she heard what Shorty was saying, she’d likely have an answer song of her own lined up. But I digress.) He gives what amounts to a semi-rap, by turns speaking, shouting and spitting his words, replete with references to himself in the third person; he’s a master, not just as a narrator and actor but as a performer, his pin-perfect stagecraft something to behold. No surprise that he was given regular work as an MC at Motown revue shows despite a marked lack of hits; he’s a personality, a character of his own invention, and he electrifies this record with his presence.
It’s even more impressive when you look at the lyrics, which are exactly the kind of standard-issue misogynistic battle-of-the-sexes crap I normally can’t abide – so you’ll have to take my word for it that he sells it. It’s not just that he portrays the character convincingly, he portrays the character sympathetically, and that’s not easy to do.
Pours my coffee out in my lap
Sends me to work with my lunch unwrapped
Can’t even get no goodbye kiss
You know doggone well I ain’t goin’ for this!
It helps that the chorus is a brilliant hook, of course (even before he throws in a bit of Little Richard howling), but this is just quality workmanship all round. This is a record bursting with ideas. The drummer and pianist get to do a few impromptu fills, some of them thrilling, some of them off-puttingly clunky, but all with Shorty’s blessing. Proceedings are driven along by a steady 4/4 beat bashed out on the tambourine, done with such energy that it sounds like Jack Ashford has borrowed the snow chains from Dancing In The Street, which starts up as soon as Shorty arrives, and doesn’t stop until the record’s over. Shorty himself picks up a harmonica halfway through and gives a ragged solo in between “Mm-mm-mm”s (you can picture him, eyes closed, shaking his head as he silently beseeches the audience: you know what I’m talkin’ about, right, guys? Women! Sheesh. All without a single word.)
Shorty was still yet to mature as an artist, and this has too many jarring musical moments and not enough witty lines to rank among his very best. It’s still excellent, which gives you some idea of the kind of talent we’re dealing with here. Go, Shorty, go.
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’ve Got To Change”
“Out To Get You”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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