b/w Love Has Gone
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
b/w Love Has Gone
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Stateside Records)
After the Four Tops’ magnificent breakthrough with Baby I Need Your Loving, I had high hopes for this first follow-up, a classic example of Motown not messing with a winning formula: the same writers, producers, musicians and vocalists, of course, but also pretty much the same song, slightly faster but unmistakeably built on the same skeleton as its predecessor.
Hard to imagine a more blatant soundalike sequel than this, really. They don’t even try to hide it; the song blasts into life mid-flow, almost as if someone’s carelessly dropped the needle on the record, and in the very first line of the song the Tops chime in: Baby, I need your good lovin’! Got to have your love right now! Shameless, sure, but then trying to remind people how good your last record was is forgiveable when your last record was a masterpiece. Carry on, boys and girls.
How disappointing, then, that this turns out to be a shambolic, noisy attempt to riff on the perfection of the Tops’ Motown début but completely missing the point, seemingly misunderstanding just about everything that made that record magical. No, I don’t like this.
On the Tops’ début album (left), the two are sequenced back to back, and this song strikes up right after the closing bars of Baby I Need Your Loving; there’s never been a less flattering comparison. Everything that was great about that one is missing on this one; like a clumsy junior chef who’s followed the recipe to the letter without ever tasting it to see if it still works, and perhaps without even knowing what it’s meant to be like. “Yeah, sure, I can do what it says here… you want a big, operatic chorus, okay, you want Levi Stubbs free to roam over the top, you want the same kind of tune. I can do that for you, no problem. It’ll be about half an hour, is that OK?”
The lyrics are a blunt, obvious parody of the desperate, all-or-nothing “man on the edge” that so captured my heart in Baby I Need Your Loving, not that it matters because the vocals are so indistinct you can only make out about two-thirds of them anyway. The heavenly mix of the three “other” Tops and the female Andantes, the unique sound that would propel so many Tops records to greatness, is ruined by a staggeringly cack-handed production job from the normally laser-precise Holland and Dozier, the whole thing fuzzy and indistinct, the boys’ harmonies harsh and loud, the girls’ operatic swell in the chorus drowned out in a cacophonous sea of distortion. The band sound like they’re laying down a cover of Baby I Need Your Loving to fill album space at 5am (which they may have been, for all I know) and struggling to get all their parts down. It’s just not that good a record.
Damn, I really, really wanted this to be amazing. Instead, it’s the biggest drop-off between first and second singles since the Supremes, and it’s a crushing, sucking disappointment, so much so that it’s taken me a few listens to uncouple my expectations and try and give it a fair shake on its own merits.
And it does have merits. Levi Stubbs, again, comes away from this looking pretty good; he certainly emerges with the most credit by far. The other six vocalists on this record seem to be doing whatever they want, so much so that it almost sounds as though they couldn’t hear themselves while recording, even when they’re only having to sing “oooh” in the background; the producers can’t keep them on a tight enough leash, and the result is a mess, a few sweet moments bobbing in a sea of amateurism. But, oh, Levi! A man who’s always at his best when freestyling anyway, here he delivers another tough, wounded performance in the verses, half-singing, half-cursing, and when HDH and his beloved bandmates hand him lemons, he sets about making wholly passable lemonade. Whether through luck or excellent judgement, his lead vocal really works against the chaotic backdrop, and it’s the record’s only real redeeming feature, enough to almost single-handedly save it from disgrace and push it to the dizzy heights of mediocrity.
(Of course, this being a Golden Age Motown single from one of the label’s best and most beloved acts, it has plenty of defenders, and I’m guessing this review will probably upset a few people – as will likely be the case every time something doesn’t move me from now until 1972. Don’t be offended; I calls ’em as I sees ’em, I can’t love ’em all, and everyone reading this is absolutely welcome to have your say in response.)
But, honestly, as it strikes me, well… it’s just not all that good. If I didn’t know that they’d dust themselves off and make some of the best records in history, I’d be worried. As it is, I’m just really disappointed – this could, and should, have been fantastic.
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!)
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“Love Has Gone”
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