B-side of All For You
B-side of All For You
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Tamla Motown)
Gladys Horton of the Marvelettes, in the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 4:
“When they played us the band track of Where Did Our Love Go, they also played us the band track of Too Many Fish In The Sea. We picked Too Many Fish…, becuase it had all of the music and the bongos. If you listen to it without the lyrics, you hear all of the music. When you listen to Where Did Our Love Go without the lyrics, you hear nothing.”
Fate’s a funny thing, isn’t it? As luck would have it, here’s our chance to put that to the test, as Motown keyboardist and bandleader Earl Van Dyke presents the band track of Too Many Fish In The Sea without the lyrics.
Nope. Sorry, Gladys, this isn’t very good at all.
I’m joking, of course. As with the A-side, All For You, the band track here is absolutely fine; it’s what’s been added that spoils things.
As part of a somewhat ill-advised musical venture to market Van Dyke as a marquee artist rather than an anonymous (but vital) member of the supporting cast, Motown had Earl dub vigorous new lead organ parts onto the pre-recorded band tracks of several other people’s previous Motown hits. Most of those tracks already featured Earl’s piano and keys work as part of the original records, so on many of them he’s effectively his own duet partner; as a result, most of these Funk Brothers (or “Soul Brothers”) overdubs are neither the wonderful original pop hits, nor the tough-edged jazz and blues the band wanted to be making. Instead, they’re a weird Frankenstein hybrid that probably ended up pleasing no-one: the exact same pop hit backing tracks as before, but now with Van Dyke’s awkward, parping organ pumping away over the top of it all, neither following the vocal line closely nor abandoning it completely.
The result is disappointing no matter what you were hoping for going in. The record misses the Marvelettes terribly, which was only to be expected – but it misses them in unexpected places. Most strikingly, the girls’ Doo doo doo DOO! interjections over the blaring, ominous horn figures at the end of each chorus, something I’d paid scant attention to on the original, are a real loss here. A clever musician, Earl seems to realise there’s now an unforeseen hole in the trecord, but doesn’t know what to do to replace them; he tries simply jabbing two keys repeatedly for a two-tone barrage that sounds weedy, underpowered and short of ideas (the audible noise as he repositions a switch is almost painful, you’re that embarrassed for him), he tries covering up the gap with a long, fierce note, he tries doing nothing at all. None of it works.
Once again, Earl himself is the weak link on his own record. His jaunty style fits the sassy material quite well in places, but it’s immediately dated, and when the original song’s defining moment arrives, the part where the song calls for the cheeky interplay of four voices to sing Tall ones! Short ones! Fine ones! Kind ones!”, Earl is left stranded. It’s a blessed relief when the ripping sax from the original comes back to put him out of his misery.
Things pick up a bit after that, Earl getting a bit more straightforward, throwing in more piercing long notes and blistering sustain, as though he were layering an extra keyboard part for the original track rather than trying to replace a lead vocal – though, ironically, Earl being the frustrated jazz player he was, he probably had less fun doing it this way. Even then, it falls apart before the end, Earl going missing altogether a couple of times in the closing twenty seconds.
Pop music is hard to do right, and it demands respect. History is full of sneering, holier-than-thou dilettantes, usually “serious” musicians – rock bands, indie bands, classical composers, classically-trained singers, and, yes, po-faced jazz players – who think they could do it if they wanted to, that they could walk to number one if they so chose – because they’re clever, because they can play their instruments, because deep down they believe they’re better than all of this. They never are, and they never can.
(This really bothers me, if you hadn’t already noticed. People don’t rock up to the Olympics and casually demand to have a go at the shot put because they’re really good at archery, or applied physics, or heart surgery, and because “come on, how hard can it be to throw a metal ball? Ha ha ha.” Even the most arrogant prick you’ve ever met knows it takes years of practice, unworldly skill, and real tenacity and determination, not to mention an absurd amount of luck, to get that far – and even then, someone’s sweated blood for four years to finish nineteenth. And so it is with pop music. Now, Earl Van Dyke seems like a great bloke, fully deserving of his reputation as the quiet, dignified, respectful and respected king of Motown’s studio, and I wouldn’t dare disparage any of that – but this record is like the very embodiment of some cocky hipster believing they can just phone it in, and falling flat on their arse, to everyone else’s great amusement. Out of respect for the man, we’ll presume he was ordered to do this and paid it little mind, Motown demanding he record a new lead part over the top of an already perfectly fine pop record (and record it fast, to boot) as album filler, rather than him just strolling in and believing he could do a better job with it than the Marvelettes. Because, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing.)
If Marvelettes fans weren’t likely to be moved by this ill-judged and poorly-executed cover, it’s equally unlikely any hardened jazz cats were particularly impressed either. We can only hope Earl himself was having some fun doing this throwaway jam, splashing his instrumental karaoke all over a fine band track, because I’m not sure anyone else enjoyed the experience.
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 Marvelettes (October 1964)
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|Earl Van Dyke & the Soul Brothers
“All For You”
“Love Makes The World Go Round, But Money Greases The Wheel”
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