B-side of Nowhere To Run
B-side of Nowhere To Run
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
The dual nature of Motown in 1965 laid bare. We’ve had the fire and ice of the A-side, Nowhere To Run, Martha and the Vandellas on absolute top form underlining why, on their day, they were a match for any group in America, the Holland-Dozier-Holland writer-producer trio turning in a classic melody and a great lyric, the band smashing it out of the park with a muscular, defining performance… and now, here’s Motoring, which doesn’t have any of those things.
In a way, this is perhaps a more accurate reflection of where Motown, and certainly the Vandellas, were “at” here at the start of this new year. It’s not that it’s bad or anything – it’s fun in its way, enjoyably bouncy and unexpectedly risqué – but this is the sound of work produced to order, a piece of filler that was never intended as anything other than a piece of filler.
People wonder how Motown, with musicians and studio personnel literally working round the clock, 23/7 (an hour each day was set aside for cleaning), could come up with so much great material throughout the mid-Sixties, churning out classic singles like the proverbial hit factory. The answer is that while, yes, there are a veritable crateload of great, great records which came out of that little building, they couldn’t all be fantastic. So, alongside the classics, there are endless re-records of the same Jobete songs, there are vast mountains of demos that went nowhere beyond the archive shelves… and then there are tracks like Motoring.
Songs that were fated to be B-sides, or “track seven” album padding, right from their inception are a tricky thing to judge. Even those flips and hidden side two cuts had to get through Quality Control, some of them ended up taking on lives of their own and becoming classics in their own right, and, truth be told, there are very few outright duffers in the mix. That we’re still, in 2012, getting lengthy CD anthologies of unreleased material (and that that material is by and large good, regardless of whether any true “must-hear” lost gems are unearthed), is testament to that.
But it’s an eye-opener going through The Complete Motown Singles and having something like this crop up right after Nowhere To Run: the company was busy, and pressure to create “product” was both high and never-ending.
“Motoring was one of those attempts to do another one like the other one, which never really worked out for me”, says its writer-producer Ivy Jo Hunter in The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 5. “That’s a good track, but I had no story to go on it, and no melody. Nothing memorable about it”.
Those aren’t the words of an outsider, or a callow newcomer – Ivy Jo may have been relatively new to the stable of writers and producers, but this was a co-write with Mickey Stevenson, head of A&R for the entire company. Even if you were an artist at the very top of the Motown tree, you still had to do your share of these – and the further down those slippery branches you found yourself, the more this kind of fare started to dominate your diet.
I’m being unduly harsh on Motoring, making it the poster child for subprime Motown cuts, when it’s no better or worse than any number of other Motown probably-couldn’t-have-beens. It’s an upbeat, midtempo dance number, with a good rhythm (the blasting horns, presumably meant to recall car horns, and the girls’ exclamations of Whooo! delivered with admirable gusto, are definite highlights); but there’s little tune to speak of, and the main interest is the car-themed lyrics.
On the face of it, it’s a flat, straightforward song with Martha the narrator telling her boyfriend – us, the listener – to drive safely, peppered with all kinds of clumsy motoring references shoehorned into the lyric. But then, lots of people – including me – have taken the lyrics as an oblique double entendre, whereby “motoring” serves as a veiled reference to bedroom gymnastics (putting a whole new twist on unsubtle lines like We gonna motor / All night long) – although I can’t decide if the song is weakened or improved by listening to it in this frame of mind. If it is indeed meant to be salacious, it’s very veiled, ending up as something like two-fifths of a dirty joke.
Which brings us back to Motown 1965, and the Vandellas in particular; having just scaled the highest heights, they’ll hopefully forgive me if a good rhythm and two-fifths of a dirty joke doesn’t send me into raptures any more. Perhaps more depressingly, while Martha and the Vandellas have plenty of excellent records still to come, their future, taken on balance, seemingly has more Motorings in it than it does Nowhere To Runs.
Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, I run out of things to say about a Motown B-side while trying to think of new ways to say “average”. But average it decidedly is.
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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|Martha & the Vandellas
“Nowhere To Run”
“Stop! In The Name Of Love”
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