B-side of Conscience I’m Guilty
(Written by Clarence Paul and William Garrett)
Ending the four-song run of unreleased, undocumented, unheralded material that opened Motown’s biggest year to date, the long-forgotten Hattie Littles here makes her final Motown bow.
Received wisdom has it that Hattie, who had the blues in her veins and who considered herself a blues singer rather than a soul vocalist, just didn’t have a place in Motown’s bright and shiny brave new world, and there’s a lot of truth in that. It’s hard to imagine her on too many TV specials, or opening live shows in front of teenage fans who’d come to see the Supremes. Hattie belonged to a slightly earlier, slightly earthier strain of Motown acts who couldn’t be polished up for the pop charts, and who didn’t fit the company’s new image, and at first blush it seems obvious she shared their fate. Like Gino Parks, Henry Lumpkin, Singin’ Sammy Ward (the quintessential example), or any number of other forgotten names from the first shaky days of Motown, Hattie Littles couldn’t adapt to the move away from jazzy blues-inflected material to big R&B ballads and pop hits, and so she was gone.
But in Hattie’s case, that’s not quite right. As we’ve seen already here on Motown Junkies, not only was she an extremely talented singer who never cut a bad record, she also had a voice with real commercial potential too. And that’s never more clearly the case than here, the very last time we get to meet her.
Motown wasted endless time and money trying unsuccessfully to replace Mary Wells once the young starlet walked out on Motown, splitting her role (and remaining material!) between Kim Weston, Brenda Holloway and a few other equally worthy but fundamentally different singers. Listening to You Got Me Worried, a bouncy R&B-pop ballad delivered in Hattie’s usual thousand-megawatt style (think Kim Weston turned up to 11), and putting it alongside Miss Littles’ earlier B-side Here You Come…? Well, I don’t know whether Hattie (who, again, liked her blues) would have been up for it, but – vocally, at least! – it seems to me Motown had the perfect candidate right under their noses the entire time, and they let her slip away into total obscurity. The buffoons.
She doesn’t sound all that much like Mary Wells, not really; although there are definite similarities in the way she pronounces and aspirates certain sounds, they’ve got different voices and different ranges. (Hattie is quite a bit louder, for a start.)
No, rather, it’s that listening to Hattie – especially when she’s doing bouncier material like You Got Me Worried – it feels like you could be listening to Mary Wells. Hattie is a fine actress, able to sell the material, and she’s got the same smirking, salacious streak in her deliveries, a spark of menacing, sexy intelligence that suggests she’s putting her tongue in her cheek and winking at the producer’s window between lines (the same sort of ability to imbue an otherwise throwaway line with a raised eyebrow that Cal Gill of the Velvelettes does so well). And Hattie doesn’t have to rely on sultry contralto whispering to get the effect; she’s got another trick up her sleeve in that she can also do it by ramping up to full force and blasting the paint off the walls in the next room, Kim Weston style. Most importantly, though, this song is exactly the sort of thing you can imagine Mary Wells doing; as I say, their voices are ultimately quite different, and so it’s only when Hattie tackles this kind of song that it all becomes clear. Too late.
The song, a catchy number that sounds more like a potential single than the proposed A-side Conscience I’m Guilty (though the distinction is academic, because this single never actually materialised), isn’t up to the standards of Mary’s best cuts, or Hattie’s, for that matter. Nonetheless, it’s still a whole lot of fun, and both Hattie and the musicians sound like they’re enjoying themselves plenty; it’s a breath of fresh air which sounds like the début from some new talent, the jumping-off point for a new and exciting career. Certainly it doesn’t sound like what it really was: a final, half-hearted throw of the dice from a disinterested label, one of America’s great unsung singers shackled to a record company who didn’t bother to release her records.
It’s believed that Hattie has more material still waiting in the Motown vaults (from whence presumably came this and this, which have surfaced on compilations in recent years). If so, there will never be a worthier candidate for a proper retrospective anthology CD to finally appear. Until that day, this will have to do; as I said last time, there are certainly worse ways to bow out.
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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“Conscience I’m Guilty”
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