B-side of Ask The Lonely
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
B-side of Ask The Lonely
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
Much of what I said about the A-side, the lovely Ask The Lonely, goes for this flip as well: there’s the same big production, the same out-of-time, quasi-operatic chorus, the same flirtation with the ghosts of easy listening.
What’s missing, though, is the topside’s slow-release brilliance; this is good and all, but it’s never great.
Like Ask The Lonely, Where Did You Go was fished out of the sessions for the Tops’ début LP, Four Tops, released later in the month. Unlike Ask The Lonely, this one was crafted by the group’s usual writer-producers, the Holland-Dozier-Holland team, but – crucially – it was recorded after Ask The Lonely was in the can.
Holland-Dozier-Holland, as a trio, possessed three great attributes which led them to world-conquering success. Firstly, they were great tunesmiths, capable of coming up with strange and unexpected (and often beautiful) chord progressions and melodies unlike any of their contemporaries. Secondly, they were great recyclers, never shy about re-using ideas from one song if they could be deployed to good effect in another. And thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, they listened to everything going on around them, absorbed (some would say appropriated) the best ideas that floated past, and put together their own take on those sounds. We’ve already seen their magpie tendencies on display here on Motown Junkies, and so – knowing that the trio were apparently somewhat peeved to discover the Tops, their pet project, were to have a new single written and produced by (gasp!) someone else – it’s legitimate to wonder if Where Did You Go isn’t in some way a response to the A-side.
Because there’s plenty of evidence of all three of the great HDH hallmarks here. I talked about great tunes, and Where Did You Go is no exception; there’s plenty of imagination on display on this, even if the overall effect isn’t as astonishing as some of the better HDH/Tops collaborations. I talked about recycling; the basic underlying structure of the song, the rhythm bed and the verse movement upon which everything else is built, are lifted directly from the Tops’ breakthrough hit, Baby I Need Your Loving. And of course, there’s more than a suggestion of the trio’s adopt/adapt/improve philosophy at work. If it’s not exactly vintage Holland-Dozier-Holland, well, there’s an argument to say it’s still classic. (Rather than “a classic”).
It’s hard to talk about Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1965 without mentioning their other big songwriting gig, and in many ways, Where Did You Go is similar to a generic Supremes B-side from this most successful of Motown years. It’s very pretty, it has the sound – yet again, the male Tops and female Andantes blend their voices in a unique mix that serves to perfectly set off lead singer Levi Stubbs’ distinctive vocals, part gruff bark and part sweet soul sensation (he’s excellent here again, though this almost goes without saying by now). It even has a nice tune, with some unexpected moves; the central refrain of Where did you go?, a refrain – like on the A-side – offset from the main time signature of the rest of the song, is positively haunting. But it’s not a great song. Rather, it’s just a nice record to listen to, a little something sweet to break up repeat plays of the topside.
Which is hardly a crime, of course. Largely unheralded on the Four Tops album, it’s ripe for rediscovery, a rare opportunity to hear the newly-minted, cusp-of-greatness Tops doing a song you haven’t heard thousands of times already. And it’s always great to hear something “new” with this sound; unlike the Supremes, there isn’t a near-inexhaustible supply of Four Tops offcuts, which perhaps explains why eager fans have grabbed this with both hands.
There’s almost nothing wrong with it – we’ve talked about the musical mix, the quality of the vocals, and lyrically it’s good too – straightforward but admirably direct, posing the simple titular question and demanding an explanation, both literally and rhetorically. It’s just lacking that final spark, that something extra which would take the song into the realms of greatness, rather than it being pleasing but ultimately inconsequential. Of course, I suppose when something’s this pleasing, it hardly matters.
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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“Ask The Lonely”
“Do You Know What I’m Talkin’ About”
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