A long, long-awaited return to Motown Junkies for the Downbeats, the group who would soon morph into the much-loved, criminally-overlooked Elgins.
For now, they were still the Downbeats, an all-male crew before the addition of new lead singer Saundra Mallett Edwards, and their sound was still rough and ready. Or rather unready; they weren’t quite the finished article, and the paucity of releases so far was testament to that.
It had been almost three years since the Downbeats’ last single, Your Baby’s Back (a plodding little number backed with a rollicking rocker, the hearty Request Of A Fool), and it’s not even clear how close this, which would have been only their second Motown 45, came to actually being released. Certainly it never saw the shelves of any record store, nor was it ever heard on the radio (there are no promo copies); it’s the most unreleased of unreleased recordings.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DISCOGRAPHICAL INTERLUDE
Indeed, this one appears in no discography, but the diligent researchers compiling The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 5 found paperwork suggesting it was slated for release at the start of 1965, and should have been released as VIP 25007, a number instead allocated to the Velvelettes’ Needle In A Haystack.
Now, this site isn’t really about collector geekiness, but just for once I’d like to beg your indulgence for a moment while I get nerdy, for the benefit of the eight readers who are interested in this stuff; everyone else can just skip the next paragraph. See you all again in a moment.
Okay. Are they gone? Right. It seems highly unlikely to me that Motown would either schedule two different artists (not records, but artists) for the same number, or schedule a release with a catalogue number four months out of sequence (which suggests that perhaps this should have appeared earlier in The Complete Motown Singles series, and not in January 1965 at all). Eagle-eyed readers will also have spotted there IS no VIP 25014, and that this phantom Downbeats single – if released where the TCMS compilers put it – would slot in exactly between 25013 and the similarly unreleased 25015. I was highly, highly tempted, in a Motown Junkies first, based on pure conjecture, absolutely no evidence whatsoever, and me not having seen any of the secret paperwork, to make a completely unfounded editorial decision, call this single that never existed 25014, and not an alternate 25007 scheduled four months out of sync, and let future discographers pick the bones out of it. But I can’t quite bring myself to do that. Damn and blast. It seems so obvious though. 25014. Say it with me. 25014.
Ahhh, that feels better.
And now, back to the actual blog.
WELL, DO YOU?
What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is an outtake among outtakes. The song never surfaced again after its abortive brush with the release schedules, and the group who made it were about to be consigned to history; the next time we meet these guys, they’ll have shed some members, gained some members, and become a mixed-gender group, the best such example on Motown’s books until the arrival of Gladys Knight and the Pips. This is the last contact we’ll have with this incarnation of the Downbeats, and (as noted above), it’s the first we’ve heard from them for three years. Why?
They’d been busy alright, playing small venues, padding out the numbers at the bottom of Motown touring revues, occasionally heading back to Hitsville to cut a couple of new songs which would invariably end up consigned to the shelves. (Much of this material – twelve tracks in all – was eventually released on the Elgins’ highly recommended Motown Anthology, pictured above.) But Quality Control were never much impressed with the Downbeats, and so no actual record releases ever ensued.
This turned out to be a lucky break for all Motown fans, if not for the Downbeats themselves; their lack of progress, which led two Downbeats (Tommy Salisbury and Robert Fleming) to jack in the whole enterprise and walk away, also led to them being paired with similarly-struggling, equally frequently shelved solo vocalist Saundra Mallett and reborn as the Elgins.
I say this was lucky, because the Elgins were great, and the Downbeats…not so much.
While this is quite good fun and everything, it’s never a hit single in a million years, and certainly not if the year in question is 1965. A bouncy, but rather thin, R&B rocker that sounds like something the pre-fame Temptations might have used as album filler (perhaps not surprising, given Temptation Eddie Kendricks cops a songwriting credit for this), it swings and it’s got a good beat, but I challenge anyone to sing it back to me after one listen.
During this, the height of Motown’s mid-Sixties “Golden Age”, Quality Control supposedly selected singles for release by playing them alongside the current Top Five and seeing how well they stacked up; I cannot for one second imagine this standing out among such competition.
Also, the lead Downbeat (Johnny Dawson?) doesn’t really have the vocal chops to sell the song, his lead coming across slightly underpowered and not up to the job of carrying such heavy weight (shades of, say, Herman Griffin or even Eddie Holland; I say “underpowered”, but it’s not so simple as a lack of power as such (or not only that, at any rate), but rather a lack of presence, or star wattage, or whatever you want to call it.)
For all of that, it’s not half bad, this. It’s a smashing groove, rather than a great song, but that’s no crime, and the repeating piano and bass are plenty engaging. Mr Lead Downbeat’s slightly weedy vocal is also likeable in its way (again, like Griffin or Holland), as he’s obviously having fun with the song. And you can dance to it, which counts for something.
Good fun while it’s playing, completely forgettable once it’s done; it bears absolutely no relation to the future of the Elgins, not to mention the rest of the Motown catalogue at the time, but it’s nice enough. Not great, not bad. Pretty much the very definition of a five out of ten record here on Motown Junkies, and so that’s what I’m giving it.
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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