VIP RecordsVIP 25007 (B), September 1964

B-side of Needle In A Haystack

(Written by Mickey Stevenson and Norman Whitfield)

BritainStateside SS 361 (B), November 1964

B-side of Needle In A Haystack

(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Stateside Records)

All label scans come from visitor contributions - if you'd like to send me a scan I don't have, or an improvement on what's already up here, please e-mail it to me at fosse8@gmail.com!The Velvelettes hadn’t long returned to Hitsville (after more than a year’s absence) when they cut the rush-released A-side, Needle In A Haystack, and so for the flip Motown reached back to the vault and dug out this weird little scribble cut back in February of 1963, back when the girls were a five-piece taking time out from school and college to lay down a few tracks.

This one’s a bit of a mess, if I’m honest. A thin, dated pastiche of the sort of calypso-tinged stuff Mary Wells was using to score hits a year and a half previously, with shrill, jarring backing vocals, it does the group something of a disservice. I’m not sure how it might have stacked up if it had been released when it was first recorded, but a lot had happened during the long delay before it saw the light of day, and it now sticks out like a sore thumb.

But it’s the Velvelettes, and nothing they ever did was wholly without merit. This one has plenty of saving graces which take the record above the crowd: the lovely, unexpected chord change which takes us to the chorus, for instance, or the intriguing lyric which sees Cal Gill’s narrator listening to her friends telling her she’s got no chance and no future with the guy she likes, biting her lip as she debates whether or not to tell them that they’re already secretly dating.

The Velvelettes' 1965 British Tamla Motown EP, which compiled both sides of this single and the follow-up, resulting in an excellent little mini-album, the closest thing the girls ever got to a proper LP release.The best thing about this, though, is Cal’s lead vocal. If she’s obviously and noticeably younger than on the A-side, she still gives it her all; like her bandmates’ backing vocals, the performances all bear comparison with their début There He Goes, which is good for Cal and bad for the others. Although she was only fifteen when this was recorded, Miss Gill again sounds superb, alternately composed and hurt – in the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 4, she reveals the lyrics were inadvertently describing a situation not totally alien to her, and she accordingly brings some of that empathy to the studio.

You’d never know there was a problem. She handles difficult parts with aplomb, raising a smile when the contorted lyric makes a rhyming couplet out of “How we met / In se-CRET”, and then goes for a twofer two lines later by adding dee-PEST for good measure. She’s got power and technique, too; even when the song calls for her to give a long, difficult sustained note, a cry of frustration, at 1:55, she takes it in stride.

It’s all very impressive, which is more than can be said for the song as a whole – but despite its dated, scruffy nature, there’s the feeling that this has been pulled above its natural level, and it ends up being well worth a listen.



(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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The Velvelettes
“Needle In A Haystack”
Stevie Wonder
“Happy Street”


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