(Written by Thelma Coleman Gordy, Richard Street and Warren Harris)
Majestics, schmajestics – these are the Monitors, and this is their earliest Motown recording, cut long before the group was forced to change its name. Now, pay attention, this gets a wee bit complicated.
Richard Street, the driving force behind this group regardless of which name they used, is another unheralded but important member of the Motown family tree. He’d been a member of the Distants back in the Fifties, before that group coalesced into one half of the Temptations; having missed that particular boat, he and a few other sometime ex-Distants then formed a kind of rump continuation group, billed as “Richard Street and the Distants”, cutting a single for Thelma Records (named for Berry Gordy’s ex-wife).
At Thelma, Street moved into production and songwriting, and eventually ended up working with another group signed to the label, the Majestics, who’d released several singles for Contour and Chex, been through a glut of line-up changes, and were now looking for both material and direction. Street obliged, both providing them with songs and also singing with them when needed. When Street followed fellow Thelma alumnus Norman Whitfield to Motown as a writer, producer and A&R man, the Majestics (with yet another new line-up) in turn followed him. It didn’t take long for them to be reunited, Street’s desire to perform eventually seeing him dovetail regular vocal work with his administrative responsibilities (as well as writing and producing, he was a crucial cog in Motown’s Quality Control machine).
Hello Love was a demo, a re-recording of a track Street and the Majestics had cut for Thelma, and one of the first tracks they laid down at Motown. It got as far as being assigned a catalogue number and sent for test pressings, but then Motown promptly canned the release before anyone had a chance to hear it. Which ends this history lesson and brings us up to date (and not a moment too soon!)
It’s a really interesting song, a dreamy melody full of eerie and inventive chord changes, but it certainly sounds like a demo, a test run for the group: only half-finished, only half-serious. Easy enough to understand why Motown originally slated it for release, but equally easy to understand why they second-guessed themselves and changed their minds.
Is it an effective calling card? Fifty-odd listens in, I’m still not sure what to make of it.
Thoughts on Hello Love, in no particular order:-
– It’s very intriguing. The tune, the production, the lead singer’s falsetto (is this Warren Harris or Street himself?), none of them really seem to match up to each other, or to anything we’ve heard so far out of Motown since the Temptations’ early “space age doo wop” days circa Dream Come True. Indeed, it shares a lot of the weird ethereal feel of that record, though it’s not as good. And it’s not 1962 any more, not that that should matter 48 years later. Whatever, this has an atmosphere quite distinct from anything else we’ve covered recently, the sound of a weird dream from which you’ve only half woken.
– It’s all rather rough. Their voices aren’t polished enough, either for Motown or for 1964 in general. The backing vocals are another element that could have been taken from a completely different record, but the effect is crude and jarring, and means Hello Love ends up with “THIS IS A DEMO!” stamped all over it. Rather than the silky smooth feel the song demands, this is coarse and jagged, like you wouldn’t want to run your hand along its surface for fear of catching on a splinter.
– It’s Philly before Philly was Philly. If this had been redone in 1974, drenched in syrupy strings and with the backing vocals tightened up and buffed to a shine, it would probably have been massive. As it is, it’s a thin collection of moods, ahead of its time in that Street the producer doesn’t really know what a song like this should sound like, not having the benefit of a template to work to.
– It’s no kind of indicator for the future at all, not for Motown and not for the Monitors. The group wouldn’t ever sound like this again, Motown had moved away from anything approaching this kind of sound, and so it kind of stands alone in its own little historical bubble. Pretty in places, irritating in places, definitely memorable, not special enough.
This has been an absolute sod to try and give a mark, because – while I love the Monitors and I accept this was an early demo – every time I find myself annoyed by its rough edges and general unfinished vibe, something remarkable teases itself out and makes me like it again. Every time I feel kindly disposed towards it, its clomping lack of poise in what should be a beautiful setting gets on my nerves. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ultimately I think the good outweighs the bad, but it’s just so strange I can’t give in and love 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!)
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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