Tamla RecordsTamla T 54101 (B), September 1964

B-side of Baby Don’t You Do It

(Written by Mack David and Elmer Bernstein)

Scan kindly provided by Dave L.  All label scans come from visitor contributions - if you'd like to send me a scan I don't have, please e-mail it to me at fosse8@gmail.com!Motown can’t have been thrilled at the prospect of greenlighting yet another Marvin Gaye MOR jazz-and-standards LP (Hello Broadway, his third such indulgence to date); these albums were pretty much chart poison, and threatened to undo much of the marketing department’s work positioning Gaye as a hot young male R&B star, but they were the price Motown had to pay to get Gaye to record any pop hits at all.

Still, this flip – the first fruits of those Hello Broadway sessions, and wildly at odds with the runaway train A-side Baby Don’t You Do It – is at least a bit more vaguely relevant than some of Marvin’s previous MOR efforts. It’s still a film song, a pseudo-standard, but it’s almost contemporary by comparison to those earlier misses – Brook Benton had cut the original just two years previously, and Jimmy Smith had then turned in a frenzied instrumental jazz freakout cover version.

Marvin’s rendition doesn’t seek to ape Brook or Jimmy, and it’s all the more welcome for it; for once, Gaye puts his own stamp on one of these things. Uniquely among Marvin’s MOR ventures to date, it has both a personality and some balls. And all it took to bring this preacher’s son out of his carbon-copyist shell was a song about how screwing around leads to eternal damnation. There’s a book to be written there.

The US picture sleeve. Scan kindly provided by Lars “LG” Nilsson - www.seabear.seAmateur psychoanalysis aside, Marvin really does inhabit this one to a much greater degree than previous attempts to tackle schlocky material. If this had been from a movie from 1952, rather than 1962, it’s possible that a cloying string-laden original version and bowdlerised lyrics might have towered over Marvin’s own interpretation, with ghastly results (as witnessed on his previous standards LP, When I’m Alone I Cry). Instead, Brook Benton’s original is surprisingly fluid and, well, cool for an Oscar-nominated David and Bernstein OST excerpt, and Jimmy Smith’s jazz cover had already done the liberating job of wilfully tampering with that arrangement, and so Marvin – while he’s still respectful of those who’ve gone before him, as always – is freed from constrictive reverence, given permission to pay homage by cutting a bit loose instead.

I don’t want to oversell it, though – it’s still not great. When it’s stacked up against the relentless pummeling of the A-side, it all sounds absurdly mannered, and somehow restrained, even as the horns blare out a would-be-chaotic barrage of sound at regular intervals. And Marvin does occasionally get lost in the song, which in turn leads to him getting lost in the arrangement, lapsing into a contemplative reverie towards the end of a line and having to pull himself back into the fray with a barked YEAH! or somesuch lest he get left behind by the jazz orchestra around him.

Marvin's fifth LP, 'Hello Broadway', released a couple of months after this single.But it’s certainly not awful, and it raises more than one smile during its exceedingly short running time (just over two minutes – another relief, since there’s no time for any aimless vocal noodling or cheesy strings). And I can’t stress enough how much of a relief it is to hear Marvin taking a project like this seriously, but without somehow parsing that “serious” as though it read “joyless” or “airless”; if it would be wrong to say that he’s having fun with this, he’s definitely committed and he puts himself into it.

It’s becoming standard (ha!) practice to see a Marvin Gaye single showcasing his R&B chops on the A-side, and a softer MOR jazz standard cut on the flip. This was presumably meant to show his versatility, advertising his many talents to unsuspecting fans, but it usually does Gaye a disservice, instead highlighting his lack of willingness to tear a song down and build it up in his own image.

But Marvin’s version of Walk On The Wild Side is unquestionably Marvin’s version, not a third-rate copy of someone else’s vision, and that makes it absolutely worthwhile and worth hearing. Not a classic Gaye cut, but cause for cautious optimism.



(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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Marvin Gaye
“Baby Don’t You Do It”
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