b/w Let’s Dance
b/w Let’s Dance
(Released in the UK under license through EMI / Tamla Motown)
The earliest days of Motown are full of questions – mysterious names and unknown characters, confusion over line-ups and release dates, people claiming to have been in two places at once… all the problems that historians face when dealing with a tiny, underfunded label and its idiosyncratic record-keeping. But by the time we get to 1965, with Motown now in its seventh year, selling millions of records on both sides of the Atlantic, a small army of professional administrators and bookkeepers prompting Berry Gordy to buy up the neighbouring houses on West Grand Boulevard to give them more office space, well, you’d have thought such mysteries were behind us.
I’d thought so, anyway. But look, here come the Hit Pack to prove me wrong.
Nobody knows who these guys really were. All we have to go on is conjecture and guesswork. Oh, and a detailed statement that may simply be the ramblings of a crazy person.
It’s a pity, because this – the Hit Pack’s one and only Motown single, picked up for release in the UK (which makes our complete lack of knowledge even more bizarre) but without much success – is really very good. Buried in the schedules between some of Motown’s biggest acts (the Supremes, Vandellas, Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder) and thus cropping up on The Complete Motown Singles series right in the middle of that glorious run, it still more than holds its own. It’s just a shame we don’t know who to credit.
If there’s anyone reading this who’s not interested in a lot of idle chat about who made this record, well, now’s a good time to skip ahead to the end (the actual review starts with that picture of the Tamla Motown label down there). Everyone else, pull up a chair.
I SEE YOUR NAME UP IN LIGHTS
Getting on for three years ago now, reader Marie asked for some more information about this track, and I did some digging around, the fruits of which are worth reproducing here.
First off, let’s talk Staunton and Walker. A talented pair of writers and producers, having previously cut sides for various acts and labels, including the pretty What More Can I Do for the Artistics on Okeh (of whom more later), they arrived at Motown and promptly got lost amid the company’s already-burgeoning roster of talented writers and producers. They failed to make much headway, but cut a lot of fine material for a number of different acts until they eventually gave up and left; we’ll be meeting them a few more times yet here on Motown Junkies.
Now, a chronology of known events.
Let’s rewind a bit, to 1964. One of Staunton and Walker’s pre-Motown jaunts is a 45 on Colpix, Summer Fever b/w Mr Big Wheels, co-written and co-produced by future Woodstock promoter Artie Kornfeld, a surf rock record with a decidedly Caucasian sound. The credited artist? “The Hit Pack”.
Fast forward a few months, to February 1965, after Staunton and Walker have signed to Motown. An acetate of the band track and backing vocals for one of their first Motown compositions, Never Say No To Your Baby, is cut and filed away. Later, a lead vocal is added, thus completing the recording that will eventually be released as Soul 35010. Once again, the record is credited to “The Hit Pack”.
The single stiffs, on both sides of the Atlantic, and in time it comes to be entirely forgotten, lost in time. Copies are scarce (if not exactly ultra-rare), but in the days before The Complete Motown Singles and widespread Internet access, few people seek them out. Then, somehow, the band track acetate escapes into the wild and onto the collectors’ circuit. Hearing the song without the lead vocal, and armed with the previous Colpix “Hit Pack” single, two equally likely hypotheses emerge: either the Hit Pack are a white group who disappeared into the ether, or the Hit Pack is an alias for another Motown group, perhaps even the house band, Earl Van Dyke and the Funk Brothers themselves. Both theories gain credence, repeated in fanzines, footnotes and messageboards.
In 2002, the excellent Big Hits and Hard To Find Classics series resurrects the full 7″ version of Never Say No To Your Baby, followed by The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 5 a few years later, and thence to iTunes, Spotify, Rdio and everywhere else. It’ll never be lost again, that’s for sure.
But hang on, this lead singer doesn’t sound Caucasian. In fact, let’s take it a step further, and note that nothing about this Hit Pack record sounds anything like the Colpix Hit Pack record. Were it not for the fact it was written and produced by the same people, you’d swear blind this was a case of mistaken identity, that these were two unrelated acts who just happened to share the same name.
It appears that Staunton and Walker recorded a number of acetates at Motown with the artist name filled in as “Hit Pack”, and the same four names keep cropping up on all of them as writers and producers: Staunton, Walker, Charles Jones, and Robert Dobyne. Based solely on this (and it’s not clear how many more of these acetates there are – the peerless Don’t Forget The Motor City online discography only lists one), the compilers of The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 5 conjectured that those four guys were probably the group members.
I have a different theory. Based on the massive discrepancy between the Colpix 45 and this one, and the fact that it’s obviously not the same guy singing lead here as it was there, I’m wondering whether the Hit Pack was just a label Staunton and Walker applied to their own demos, much in the same manner as “Holland-Dozier”, for songs that didn’t have an artist assigned yet. I’m further wondering whether, just like Holland-Dozier’s What Goes Up Must Come Down, this was a demo that ended up being passed for release rather than handed to another artist. Certainly the lead vocal is extraordinary.
And here’s where Robert Dobyne comes in.
CRAZY ABOUT THE LA LA LA
There’s an alternate universe somewhere out there where Robert Dobyne is a megastar, a household name; but in this world, for whatever reason, he just never quite hooked it all together. A great singer on his day – check out the appropriately-named All I Need Is A Chance from the recent A Cellarful Of Motown! Volume 4 – Dobyne had a couple of shots at the big leagues, not including his time at Motown: a short-lived stint as lead singer of the Artistics, and later a solo would-be star turn on Kama Sutra (though his Can’t Get Along Without You, once prized on the Northern Soul scene, is hardly the best advert for his voice – the underpowered vocal on that sounds like a completely different person).
At Motown, he recorded a number of unreleased solo cuts; he’s also the prime candidate to be the lead singer on Never Say No To Your Baby. Circumstantial evidence alone points in his direction, but even putting that aside, it certainly sounds like him, played back to back with All I Need Is A Chance. And then, there’s… Well, there’s this.
Back in 2010, when I was first looking into the matter, a long and boring search brought up a Youtube account claiming to be the work of Mr Dobyne himself, under the username SirDobyne (http://www.youtube.com/user/SirDobyne), and featuring a lengthy, um, “explanation” (sadly since deleted) of what happened between him and Motown. I copied down the entire contents, which were as follows. I don’t know if this really was Robert Dobyne or just some crank pretending to be him, but… Well, if it is him, the highlighted bit is pretty conclusive.
“I am Robert Dobyne. I live in Chicago,Illinois. I am on the BLACK LIST, been on the black list before the president OBAMA was born. So anything that I say is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I am nothing but old school and I am a slave to master Berry Gordy and Ralph Salsa, Charlie Koppleman, Don Ruben, Arti Ripp, Henry Allen, Don Kursner, Larry Butler, Jerry Butler, Fredrick Knight,William “Smokie” Robinson, Eugene Records (decested), Curtis Mayfield(decested), Flip Wilson (decested), Lou Rolse(decested),Jackie Wilson(decested),Robert Stunton(unknown where about), and Robert Walker( unknown where about). All of these people and MORE that i have not thought of at this time have participated in keeping me from telling the world my story. You can hear my story and my music weekly, monthly,yearly, and to infinity. It may not be on YOUTUBE or MYSPACE but you will be able to hear my story by keeping in touch. I like to begin by saying I was a motown recording artist in the year 1964 until 65′ and during that time my incounter with Berry Gordy. I was in his office at motown and he threatend to kill me if I tried to take his company. All of this was a setup and words passed out to Mr, Gordy that I was going to take his company. He told me that Robert Stunton and Robert Walker told him that I was going to take his company. I pleeded with Mr. Gordy thatI did not know any thing about what he was saying. He put a gun to my head and told me I better tell him the truth then he said, “wait open your mouth”. Then he put the barrel of the gun in my mouth and told me he could kill me and won’t nothing be said because I sneaked in to see him and had no appointment to see him. Let me explain how I sneaked in. After Stunton and Walker told me that they pulled the hit pack which was a group signed to soul records, I Robert Dobyne lead singer of the group the record never say no to your baby wanted to know why he took it off the air. So they told me that I had to ask Mr. Gordy not telling me they had spreaded the word that I was going to take his company. So i sat outside the house were his office used to be for now they have torn it down but back then I sat on the stoot to the front door which had a buzz in door to get inside. I sat out there for a couple of hours or so until i got the nerve to put my feet at the door to keep it from closing when someone came out. Once that happend I eased upstairs. Once up to the top and into the receptionist desk, the woman asked,” How did you get up here Dobyne…i didn’t buzz you in.” After I was explaining to her that I wanted to see Mr. Gordy he walked to the door and asked me what are you doing here. I told him that I had to talk to him concerning our record. He said to me to give him a minute and he would see me.Now this is why he said he can kill me and no one would do a thing about it. So I went on and pleeded with him that I did not know anything about taking his company. After Mr. Gordy knocked me around with his fist 3 to 4 times in the face he went on to tell me that I was his SLAVE and I would never be free from him and he was going to get to the bottom of this. He then told me that other companies was jealous of what he was doing with his company and they were sending all kinds of con artist and scammers to take hitsville. They tried with Mary Wells. He said to me that since she left me she has not had one hit record and thats because I know how to kill without using my hand. Mary Wells was my slave he went on to say that Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Marve Johnson, Jimmy Ruffin, Shorty Long, The 4 tops, The Miricales, The Spinners, The Marvelettes, The Vandellas, The Supremes, and everybody that he had was his slaves and that I was going to do whatever he wanted me to do. He was going to give me one more chance to prove myself that I am not there to take his company. Then, he told me he would give me a position with the contours singing the hit song DO YOU LOVE ME because Robert (not me) the lead singer was drugging himself out and he needed to be replaced so I would be the one to replace him. That is all I have for you at this particular moment but like I said form the top everyday, every week, every month, and every year you will hear the truth the whold truth and nothing but the truth”
So, that’s… Yeah. Okay then.
SHOW ME TO WHERE THERE’S MUSIC
Anyway, enough about the who, more about the what.
This is close to being an excellent record, somewhat rough around the edges – the lyrics sound like something Staunton and/or Walker wrote on the back of a fag packet five minutes before the session, while the male backing vocals, a pummelling, bellowed chant of Never say no to your baby!, quickly grate – but it’s strong, vital, alive. Exceedingly annoying hook and silly lyrics aside, it’s very likeable.
If that is Robert Dobyne fronting this, he’s brilliant, his firm baritone both strong and anxious at the same time, the gravelly tear in his throat when he chants “No! No! No! No!” a superb highlight. If it’s him, I wish he’d stuck around, wish Motown had put some faith in his career rather than allowing it to peter out. If it’s not, I wish I knew who it was, because on the strength of this, they deserve plaudits.
There’s a cinematic quality about this, elements of contemporary Westerns and future blaxploitation flicks that somehow imbue the record; together with Possibly-Dobyne’s excellent lead vocal, it ends up being both intriguing and undeniably cool.
Despite its slightly scruffy nature and somewhat unfinished feel, there’s enough here to make this a success; the backing track is so tough and vibrant that you can easily understand how it circulated so widely without a lead vocal. With it, this mysterious little dance record ends up – quite unexpectedly – continuing Motown’s recent excellent streak of singles. Like I said, it’s just a shame we don’t know which way to send the applause.
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!)
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