b/w Tears In Vain
According to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 4, this single was commercially released just a few weeks after Stevie’s previous effort, Happy Street, hit the shelves. Not only does that seem rather unlikely – what would Motown’s motivation be for having two competing Stevie Wonder 45s out at once? – but I’ve never seen a stock copy of this that was pressed up at the time, or even a picture of one, nor have I spoken to anyone who’s got one, which leads me to believe this was never actually released. But Motown says it was, and so, well, here it is.
I’m glad, though. Any record is bound to sound good in comparison with the lacklustre Happy Street, and it might sound like damning with faint praise to call this probably Stevie’s best single since his big breakthrough with Fingertips (a title that’s not exactly a fiercely contested accolade given some of the forgettable sides that have come since), but this is a good one.
I can’t say it’s a “return to form”, because Stevie hasn’t actually got any form to return to, and when he finally got consistently good, his later records – even his mid-Sixties teenage efforts – had almost nothing to do with the novelty kiddie phase that had brought him fame and fortune as “Little Stevie”. Instead, this is more like a rebirth, a starting point for a new artist, and if it doesn’t sound as though that new artist will go on to become one of the all-time greats, well, it’s still a good pop record – and what’s more, it’s the first A-side to have Wonder’s name among the writing credits. Without realising it, Stevie has taken the first step on the road to Music Of My Mind.
I don’t want to oversell this. It sounds like it comes from some kind of throwaway AIP film cashing in five years too late on a teen craze already past. It’s jaunty, frothy R&B-pop, taken at a fast lick and with no higher purpose than to move the hips, and you’d be mad to say it comes anywhere near Wonder’s best. But it’s no hot rocker, and Stevie doesn’t get to pick up his harmonica once, never mind scream the lyrics: it’s a pretty tune first and foremost.
It’s quite a thrill to hear a “sweet” Motown dancefloor assault again, especially after a week of the crushing downer that is the Supremes’ Always In My Heart. The rattling rollercoaster drums and quietly bashed tambourine and (especially) the soaring, sawing strings driving the whole thing along sometimes threaten to take over, to buck Stevie right off the track and turn this into a San Remo Golden Strings-style instrumental cut, but he hits back with a confident and well-taken lead vocal to take control. He’s still very much an adolescent, he doesn’t try anything too spectacular, but he’s starting to learn his limits and work on his delivery, and – for the very first time on Motown Junkies – his voice is finally recognisable as Stevie Wonder, future legend.
The best thing about this, though, is that it’s just a lovely, airy melody. There are plenty of nice moments that call to mind the better days of Eddie Holland; when Stevie declares I will be so proud to have you standing by my side, just before a rising string sting takes us up to the middle eight, you can’t help but think of the future. So, the guy did always have a way with a tune. And Motown knew it, because Berry Gordy knew it, had it himself, could always recognise it in others. Perhaps that’s why this phantom single was supposedly slated for release; a new star songwriter emerging from the most unexpected of quarters.
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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“Always In My Heart”
“Tears In Vain”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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