B-side of Talkin’ To Your Picture
(Written by Billy Page)
B-side of Talkin’ To Your Picture
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
50-year-old crooner Tony Martin isn’t any less incongruous in the Motown roster here, but this certainly starts out at least a little bit more promising than its A-side, the dreadful singalong schlock chantey and stalker’s charter Talkin’ To Your Picture.
Oh, it’s not great, don’t get me wrong. It’s extremely syrupy, going for a kind of unspecified “classy, yet inoffensive” territory, which means that while it sounds like music made for people who find Mantovani or the 101 Strings Orchestra a bit much, it’s also laughably over the top in its lurches for emotional intensity.
But it’s got a pretty, understated little tune buried beneath all the nonsense, strong enough not to have to rely on all the strings and orchestral overdubs and grandiose trappings to carry it along. It passes my acid test for MOR glurge, in that it I can imagine someone sitting down with an acoustic guitar and making this sound good.
Note that I say I can imagine it sounding good, in the stripped-down version I have playing in my head. This version, the one that actually exists? No, no, no.
Tony Martin was already several years past his sell-by date when he recorded this, and his vocal is a mess, starting off rich and sonorous (if much, much too grandiose for this setting) but losing control as it goes on, getting more strangulated and ridiculous as the song keeps on asking him to do bigger and grander things, so that by the end he sounds like an amateur operatic society tenor gargling pork jelly.
I was kindly disposed to this when it started, and although it was never going to get a great score or anything, I had a sneaking fondness for the melody, a kind of admiration that there was some songcraft going on.
But it’s just so utterly, hilariously overcooked, it wallows in its own bombast until you just can’t take it seriously any more. From about halfway through, the record pumps up every second of its remaining running time into a massive gesture of self-importance; it even milks the long, drawn-out ending, leaving a silent gap just long enough for the audience to think they’ve finally finished, before suddenly returning for an encore it hasn’t earned (and one we certainly didn’t ask for).
This is like the grand finale to an overture that’s been going on for half an hour, but we’ve only wandered in for the last three minutes. No, honestly, it’s ridiculous, to the point I half expected it to go even further over the top – bells ringing, cannons booming, fireworks exploding overhead in the concert hall, whatever.
The irony with all of these everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type of MOR arrangements, throwing in choir, strings, orchestra, big voices, kettledrums and everything else, is that because they can be so powerful in the proper context, with the proper build-up leading to the proper pay-off, it’s tempting for less skilled practitioners to copy the trimmings without doing the prep, a queasy sheen masquerading as significance and intelligence – and in so doing, they invariably end up taking away from a song’s raw emotional intensity, rather than adding to it. It’s the equivalent of a beautiful, wordless romantic parting scene from a classic silent movie, which some idiot then puts up on Youtube with a caption reading OMG SO SO SAD! :*(
This aims for massive things, much too massive for the song’s slender frame, and under the weight of Tony’s side-splittingly misjudged vocal, it ends up being about as special and moving as Westlife singing about drywall. Potentially quite a pretty little song, but ruined beyond all hope like this, it’s just terrible.
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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“Talkin’ To Your Picture”
“Ever Since The World Began”
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