B-side of That’s What Love Is Made Of
(Written by Smokey Robinson)
B-side of That’s What Love Is Made Of
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Stateside Records)
Definitely the better of the two sides – let’s get that straight right from the start. Would I Love You is a much stronger song than That’s What Love Is Made Of, simple and enduring. Would it have made a better single? I’m not so sure.
Smokey cut this gentle ballad in Chicago with a string section, following the lead of the earlier underwhelming single (You Can’t Let The Boy Overpower) The Man In You and dating from around the same time. It seems to have sat on the shelf for a little while, but maybe Robinson fancied pairing the A-side’s nursery-rhyme tweeness with another song of melodic and lyrical simplicity.
Certainly, there’s a shared lack of “edge” between the two songs, a kind of gentle inoffensiveness (is that a word?) that seems to hint at Smokey the artist – as opposed to Smokey the million-selling songwriter/producer – moving in a softer, more mainstream, MOR direction. (I’m sure, on this evidence, not many people predicted that the Miracles’ next single would be a raucous, lunkheaded would-be dance rocker. But that’s a story for another day.)
That’s where the comparison ends, though. Where That’s What Love Is Made Of is grating in its simplistic form, Would I Love You billows along in graceful simplicity, and there’s a world of difference between those two things.
It’s really quite lovely, and if it catches you when you’re in the right mood, you could certainly fall head over heels for its many charms. Smokey is on excellent vocal form (the unexpected kick up the scale at 1:36 – would I HOLD you? – is perhaps my favourite moment of his singing career so far, but his call-and-response work in the second half of the song is almost equally noteworthy).
I’ve never read a review of this that didn’t single out Claudette for individual praise, and I’m not going to break that streak; she sounds wonderful, leading the rest of the Miracles in some strange, ethereal backing vocals before soaring away to take the main vocal line, pulling the titular refrain right up to the rooftops. The bed of strings and tinkling high-register piano wrap everything up in ribbons the colour of spring… it’s all so pretty.
And then there’s the lyrics. While rather more direct than Smokey’s usual fare (there’s no self-amusing wordplay here, nor any sense of Robinson finding the exact expressions for the feelings he wants to convey), they’re instead disarmingly honest, in the manner of much of his best work. A song of love, devotion and total openness, and one that can’t be derailed by the use of the word “birdie” in the first stanza.
But – you knew there was a “but” on its way, right? – if it catches you in the wrong mood, it falls flat on its face. It’s another absolutely standard, off-the-peg ambling 6/8 doo-wop cut, and the tune is only carried away from the usual doo-wop chord changes and taken somewhere interesting by the strings. The song itself, lyrics aside, is absolutely flat. If it’s undeniably more beautiful (much more beautiful!) than earlier Miracles attempts to disguise a song’s factory-settings nature by hanging all manner of vocal and instrumental loveliness on that standard skeleton – see You Can Depend On Me, or Who’s Lovin’ You, or I Can’t Believe, or I’ve Been Good To You, etc etc etc – it’s still something of a surprise to find it happening again. Unlike the Marvelettes’ Forever, it’s never quite pushed me over.
All of which has always stopped me ever pushing this right to the very top, rather than seeing it as a really good Miracles song. It’s probably not the sort of thing that would have made a suitable A-side – it’s too slow and gentle, and (more importantly) too meandering, for that, lacking the killer hook to take it to the very top level – but it’s beautiful and it’s honest, and if a record has those things going for it, you can’t really say too much against it.
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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“That’s What Love Is Made Of”
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