b/w Pride And Joy
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
Everyone knows that Motown’s house musicians didn’t receive their rightful share of the fame and glory for creating so many big hits until it was much too late, but that – thanks to the film Standing In The Shadows Of Motown – at least their story finally got told, ready for future generations to speak of them in hushed tones. Van Dyke. Jamerson. Benjamin. Willis. The immortal Funk Brothers. Truly, these were the men who built Motown. Everyone knows that.
It would have been good to know Walter “Choker” Campbell’s thoughts on all of this, had he lived to see it. Choker rarely got into the studio, you won’t find his name listed on many classic hits or even mentioned in the same breath as those in the paragraph above, and yet he played an instrumental part (no pun intended) in the rise of Motown from local curio to national phenomenon.
For Choker Campbell was the leader of Motown’s live band, the saxophonist and conductor who kept any number of Motortown Revue shows driving along. An accomplished sax player, a respected leader of men, and later a talented producer – not to mention a notorious rake – Choker cut singles before and after he was signed to Motown, but his time with the label was mostly spent out on the road.
To keep him happy, in 1964 Berry Gordy granted Choker a record release, an album of his live arrangements of Motown hits adapted into peppy big band instrumentals. Not all the tracks on the album feature the same members of the live band (or indeed any of the live band at all), but the unifying presence and the name above the marquee is Choker, and he took his opportunity with both hands.
A single was required to promote the album, and so it came to pass that Come See About Me – lifted straight from the LP – became Choker’s one and only US Motown single. (Although in Britain, the new Tamla Motown label opted to pick a different album cut as the chosen 45 – but that’s a story for another day here on Motown Junkies).
Even though (most of) the individual musicians in play here aren’t as dynamic as the Funk Brothers, or as inventive, or as thrilling, there’s an argument to say that Choker’s Hits Of The Sixties LP (left) actually stands up better than the equivalent Earl Van Dyke/Funk Brothers effort, That Motown Sound!, issued around the same time in a near-identical jacket. Both are laden with instrumental remakes of Motown songs made famous by other people, and you wouldn’t necessarily want to take either of them with you to your desert island over the originals, but while the Funk Brothers versions are often somewhat pointless overdubs of the original tracks with Hammond organ instead of lead vocals, Choker’s arrangements are tailored more to the strengths of the stage band, rather than the hotshot, frustrated jazz musicians of the studio group.
So, what we get are several Motown hits redone from scratch in big band style, with all the discipline and professionalism you’d expect from, well, a disciplined and professional stage band who wanted to keep getting work (whether that was Motortown Revue gigs, or just backing whoever was playing the municipal auditorium next week). Individual creativity is subsumed, the arrangement is king by consent, but there’s a certain creativity in the making of that arrangement, an impish spark in the chop-shop conversion of a baroque Supremes #1 smash hit into a rollicking big band rollout. Which brings us back to Come See About Me.
I don’t know who this record is aimed at, to be honest. All of the best things about the Supremes’ original are missing here – or, rather, they’re not exactly missing, but they’ve somehow gotten lost in translation, coming out in a mangled fashion somewhere between driving R&B and early-evening easy listening hell.
Essentially, this is a version of Come See About Me that sounds like a house band “sting” at an awards show as Diana Ross gets up to collect some prize or other. Everyone’s having fun, and it sounds well enough, but it’s done without any understanding of the crushing lyrics, or indeed any hint that there ever were any lyrics at all; instead, it’s a fast-driving, light-hearted blast through the tune, hitting many of the signposts but rather missing the point. It almost feels faintly disrespectful to reach the bit where Diana should be singing My life’s so uncertain / Since you’re not around, and instead be met with the horn section leaning into shot with a goofy grin and blaring out some novelty trills. Perhaps writers Holland and Dozier, who produced both the original and this remake, were just happy to finally blow off some steam.
So the only way to really appreciate this is to forget the Supremes ever did this song at all, and pretend this is the only version that exists. It’s difficult, but once that’s done, taken on its own merits…?
It’s okay, is the answer. It’s okay. It’s kind of fun. It sounds good, in that these are proficient musicians having a good time, and Come See About Me is a really good tune. But it’s not great. It’s almost as though the impulse to make something that only lasts for the moment, a piece of transitive, throwaway good-time fluff, has convinced the band that that’s all this can ever be, and so while it’s big and loud, it’s also paradoxically lighter and cheesier than the original. (Damn, I almost made it a whole paragraph without mentioning the Supremes version. Never mind.)
I’m giving this five, because even though it sails a bit close to the easy listening wind in places, even though it’s a pale reflection of the original, it’s still a fun (and funny) exercise to hear a Supremes hit retooled as a big band number, and while most mid-Sixties instrumental big band music is inherently naff to a degree, this at least has a good time with its cheesy lack of permanence. Choker carries his task out with professional dedication, and the result is probably the best darned big band cover of Come See About Me we could have hoped for. Assuming your hopes were as low as mine.
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!)
Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- The Supremes (October 1964)
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“(Talking ’Bout) Nobody But My Baby”
|Choker Campbell’s Big Band
“Pride And Joy”
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