b/w I Want You Round
(Written by Mickey Stevenson and Alphonso Higdon)
b/w I Want You Round
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Stateside Records)
As soon as it became clear Mary Wells wasn’t coming back, Motown wasted little time fitting up Marvin Gaye with a new duet partner. Traditionally, the singles Motown released on Brenda Holloway, Carolyn Crawford, Oma Heard and Agatha “Kim” Weston during the summer of ’64 have been seen as auditions for the role, each young lady asked to show what they could do with some distinctly Wellsesque material.
After a brief and abortive test run with Oma, Kim eventually got the nod – the best singer of the four, with both the biggest voice and the biggest on-disc personality (despite her “audition” single actually being the weakest, for my money) – and she and Marvin were rushed into the studio to stockpile duets for a proposed winter LP release that never actually materialised. This single appeared in the stores less than a month after recording, and – surely not coincidentally – less than a month after Mary Wells’ last slated Motown single Whisper You Love Me, Boy was meant to arrive, instead fighting for airplay with Mary’s Fox début.
The duet project obviously mattered to Motown; Marvin’s latest solo effort, the fully rocking Baby Don’t You Do It, had only been out for a couple of weeks. But it’s not the same. It’s not just the sound that’s changed, the dynamic of the two singers’ relationship is a very different thing too.
On this initial evidence, there’s no doubt this mix is going to work better than Marvin and Mary ever did. When Gaye was first partnered with Wells, he was the junior up-and-comer and she was the established star; their commercial fortunes were equal at best, and most judges would have no problem giving the decision to Mary on points.
Fast forward to the end of 1964, and in this new casting choice, Marvin is the “big name”, the star attraction, and it’s Kim’s faltering solo career which is definitely receiving a much-needed leg up. Yet in terms of what’s actually on the record, this is much more a partnership of equals than any of the Mary-Marvin duets. For the first time, Marvin is paired with a voice big enough to knock him on his backside, and he relishes the corresponding opportunity to cut loose some more, safe in the knowledge he’s not going to overpower Kim. The two of them have at it with tremendous abandon, and the redrawn balance of power (plus Gaye and Weston’s friendly working relationship) means that they can comfortably share a mic, giving a real live feel to their work, and – crucially important, this – they sound like a plausible couple, in a way that Marvin and Mary never really could.
(Ironic gossip side note: of Marvin’s four main duet partners at Motown, Mary Wells is the only one he was rumoured to have actually been romantically linked with – “you could say the duets were not great for my marriage”, quoth Marvin – despite theirs being the least convincing of Gaye’s on-vinyl relationships. But I digress.)
There’s probably some complex musicological explanation for it, but the way I see it is pretty simple: Kim could cope with Marvin’s regular material, and so the Kim/Marvin duets can get closer to the sound and style of Marvin’s swaggering, syncopated R&B-pop solo stuff, with more blues and more balls than anything he did with Mary – a change which is to everyone’s benefit. This one sets its stall out immediately to let everyone know it’s trying to sound like a Marvin Gaye record (a concept that had somehow evaded the Mary Wells duet sessions), opening with an unmistakeable twang, piano and handclap riff that’s clearly a close relative of I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby, itself born of Pride And Joy, with a little bit of Baby Don’t You Do It thrown in for fun. It doesn’t make any advances on those earlier Marvin cuts, and it’s certainly not as good a song as any of those, but it’s a gas all the same.
Make no mistake, this one is aimed at Marvin’s fans alright; if the MOR and Broadway standards LPs weren’t showing off his diversity, here Motown tries a different tack by keeping him in his proven commercial groove while teaming him up with an appealing new talent, as well as giving said new talent some easy publicity and invaluable name recognition. But it’s for Marvin’s fans, Marvin’s stardom, to make this duet a success, rather than the duet itself capturing the public imagination. That would come later. This is now.
As if to underline the point, there’s a feeling of “And introducing MISS KIM WESTON” about this. The music is undeniably Marvin all over, and yet after the cracking intro – eight bars of twin-handed vocal attack, Kim and Marvin taking their wordless lines together at full volume, whoa-oh-oh-oh! – he doesn’t appear again until we’re well into the second minute of the song, the audience instead in the meantime being introduced to their new favourite female vocalist (or so Motown hoped).
If she never quite became the superstar she was meant to be, it’s not for want of trying. On her last solo effort, the dismal Mary Wells pastiche Looking For The Right Guy, Kim never really got to grips with the material, hiding her light under a bushel as she tried to smoulder her way through a part she just wasn’t meant for. Here, perhaps realising breaks like this don’t come along all that often, she grasps the opportunity with both hands.
She’s on fire, back to her very best, hints of Aretha and Dinah but mostly just Kim. The introductory first verse is magnificent, but the highlight comes when they start trading lines in the middle of the song, and Kim hits him with both barrels – I’ve just got to have you / Marvin, ’cause I love you so!, the sheer force with which she squeezes out the word ’cause, catching on her throat and lips on the way out, dragging the rest of the line on a string behind it, almost too soulful for the primitive recording equipment to cope. She draws the best out of Marvin, too, during their mid-song back-and-forth; it’s such a joy hearing him not afraid to open the throttle right up, knowing he’s not going to do any damage.
Except, weirdly, it actually does end up doing some damage right at the end, Kim somehow getting stranded for the final coda in a different part of the scale to Marvin’s guttural semi-spoken shouts, an uncomfortably high place, creating a jarring effect that immediately reminds everyone this was their first go, that all the kinks hadn’t yet been ironed out, that they still needed a bit of practice before they’d be scaling the charts together. The slightly strained, slightly “off” vocal finale isn’t enough to ruin the record, not by any means (on the contrary, it’s a stark illustration of how good they both were right out of the gate), but it should never have been needed in the first place; Marvin and Kim are only pushed into it because the song’s completely run out of ideas and doesn’t know how to pull off a suitably big finish, and it feels like there’s a bit missing, the bit that would take this and turn it into a mega-hit.
But that can’t really take the gloss off; if it’s lacking a little as a song, there’s very little wrong with it as a record, and as an introduction to a hot new partnership, it’s right on the money. There’d be better songs for these two yet, but this is a fine way to start.
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.
|Earl Van Dyke
“Hot ‘n’ Tot”
|Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston
“I Want You Round”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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