B-side of When Someone’s Good To You
(Written by Smokey Robinson)
B-side of When Someone’s Good To You
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
I can’t listen to this without thinking of Tammi Terrell.
Regular readers – do you remember me saying, during the review of the A-side When Someone’s Good To You, that even though Carolyn Crawford was essentially replaced at Motown by Tammi, and even though Carolyn’s voice is quite similar to Tammi’s in some respects, it was still a comparison which didn’t unduly disadvantage Carolyn?
Yeah. Well, anyway, that goes out of the window when they both sing the same song. Yet again, my listening experience is permanently skewed by me hearing a different version before coming to the original. Smokey Robinson wrote and produced this especially for Carolyn, and yet because I heard Tammi Terrell’s lovely cover first, I find myself unavoidably comparing the two. And this time, Carolyn does very much come off worse.
Tammi’s version, as you can hear, is lushly orchestrated, full of bold musical choices (like that strummed guitar – what is that, a mandolin?), and benefits from a great vocal courtesy of Tammi herself. When I heard Tammi’s version, on A Cellarful of Motown! Volume 2, I was struck by how sweetly and neatly she sells the central lyrical conceit; the narrator’s trying to put a brave face on her romantic misfortunes, but various parts of her body keep letting her down (“I saw it with my eyes, but a pain ran through my heart”, she laments, almost apologetically, and your heart breaks a little for her). It seemed clever and not oversold, and invoked sympathy for her situation.
Smash cut to Carolyn Crawford’s original, cut two and a half years earlier, and everything about it feels loose and messy. Most of this is not Carolyn’s fault – the instrumentation is alternately sparse and overcrowded, and the whole arrangement is full of weird, jarring moments (momentary dischords, time stops, tempo changes, beats turning up in strange places, great crashing grand piano chords, solos that crop up right in the middle of Carolyn’s lines as if they’ve accidentally been spliced in from other, unrelated records)… the band track sounds as though it’s lacking in direction, a weird offbeat calypso-styled R&B ballad cut almost two years after Motown had stopped cutting calypso-styled R&B ballads.
It doesn’t help, though, that Carolyn gives one of her weakest performances to date. I mean “weakest” in a number of ways – not only that she doesn’t invest this with any real emotional power, which is fatal when you’re trying to sell a convoluted metaphor like the one in these lyrics, but she’s also too quiet, overwhelmed by the galumphing musical cues and loudly barked male backing vocals, and she’s flatter than on her previous Motown outings, meaning that for the first time here on Motown Junkies she actually does sound like a 15-year-old girl.
But then, she was a 15-year-old girl, and the song underneath it all is fundamentally sound, Smokey again bringing something interesting to the table, refusing to phone it in even when being commissioned to write and produce for one of Motown’s less commercially successful signings. It’s hardly Carolyn’s fault that Robinson opted to give it another go after two more years of polishing, with two more years of experience, and that the singer he chose went on to become one of the label’s most beloved and skilful interpreters. It’s just bad luck, I suppose.
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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“When Someone’s Good To You”
“Can You Jerk Like Me”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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