B-side of My Girl
B-side of My Girl
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
Of course this can’t be on a par with the A-side. Of course it can’t. That would be crazy. But even when you’ve pre-emptively lowered your expectations (even if, way down at the back of your mind, you might secretly be hoping for another out-of-nowhere masterpiece like Oh Little Boy), well, this one still somehow manages to be something of a disappointment.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible or anything. In fact, it’s quite a nice little record – it’s a throwback to the slightly weird, slightly alien sound of the Temptations’ pre-fame Motown non-hits, a sound I referred to as “space age doo-wop” in past reviews, and that happens to be a sound I rather like. It’s just that the Tempts have come down from a whole different plane to bring it to us; after the heavenly delights of the A-side, the flip brings them back down to our level, and I can’t help but shrug.
If this seems rather dated compared to the timeless quality of the A-side, it’s because it was; (Talking ‘Bout) Nobody But My Baby was cut back at the beginning of 1963 before being left to rot on the shelves, and it was almost two years old when Motown dusted it off to back up My Girl.
Quite why they did that isn’t clear – they had an upcoming new LP, The Temptations Sing Smokey, to plug, but this track didn’t make the lineup (and indeed never featured on any Temptations album). Smokey Robinson had already had his own crack at it, the Miracles’ version (sung over the same backing track) ending up similarly unused. Perhaps it was the similar lyrical subject matter that led Motown to pair their astonishing new surefire hit with a two-year-old rejected outtake; imagine My Girl without any of the dancing wordplay and just-so imagery, and you might end up with something like this.
It meant the Temptations’ biggest hit record – carried along by a star turn from lead singer David Ruffin – featured a B-side which predates Ruffin even joining the group by a full year, perhaps a last hurrah for (the long since fired) Elbridge “Al” Bryant and that space age doo-wop sound, finding its way by stealth into a million American homes. But what’s it actually like?
Long-time readers of this blog will know of my theory that the Temptations, superb singers and dancers all, were never quite “right” on vinyl until Smokey Robinson took the group in hand. In their prehistoric years, the years Before Smokey, they racked up several good records and several bad records, and the difference lay only in how the group’s two recognised lead singers in the pre-Ruffin days, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, were used. As I expounded when talking about I Want A Love I Can See (one of the good ones), if Paul was “hemmed in” and nominal lead Eddie was left untethered to roam around at will, the results could be shaky, even disastrous. And that’s what happens here; it’s not dreadful, but nor is it much fun to meet Eddie’s uncontrollable shrieky lead falsetto again, his most irritating vocal habit thrust into the spotlight long after he’d actually stopped doing it.
If you can overlook that, there’s plenty to enjoy on this flip. The chorus, as on so many of the Tempts’ early period records, is spine-chilling; this one’s very reminiscent of their remarkable work on I’ll Love You Til I Die, the unearthly combination of Blue and Al and Otis’ harmonies married to an unexpected progression that demands notice. There’s a great horn break in the middle which is equally riveting, presaging the time when Motown would routinely throw those into the mix in their huge pop hits. And I’m quite fond of the way Eddie and the boys vocally phrase their lines, leaving big gaps, enunciating each syllable in some words, skipping over others entirely. “She’s got the world’s sweetest (HUGE PAUSE) per-so-nal-i-ty” brings a smile every time.
But there’s no getting away from the fact it’s a relic, an artefact from an already distant past (shades of the similar archaeology employed by the Supremes, the equally aged He Means The World To Me backing mega-hit Where Did Our Love Go). Plus, nice though it is, who on earth was flipping this single over in the first place?
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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