b/w Tune Up
b/w Tune Up
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
Following hard on the heels of Junior Walker and the All Stars’ big breakthrough hit Shotgun, this is cut very much from the same cloth. But as we’ve already seen with the Supremes (and Mary Wells before them), the big break can be a liberation, a confirmation that you’re on the right track, that what you believed was right all along. So, now Walker and Motown had the big hit, they took it as a green light to take that concept and run with it. Do the Boomerang is more than just Shotgun Redux – it’s more like Shotgun refined, except that that word has no business being anywhere near Junior Walker.
Junior wastes no time at all tearing right into this – the track’s only a few seconds old when, with practically his first contribution, he whips out a piercing altissimo sax squall – but as with Shotgun, it’s more fun when the track becomes a duet, a duel between Junior (either on saxophone, or delivering another fantastically gruff lead vocal), and a rolling, chugging organ part. The sax on this, fearsome though it is, is actually little more than a musical garnish, rather than forming the blood and guts of the record; this is a dirty, grizzled slab of prime Walker, equal parts thrilling funk-pop and menacing screw-you blues.
I was really interested to see how Junior and his crew would respond to sudden and unexpected fame, and what they did now that they had the big hit under their belts. The answer, it appears, unsurprisingly, was: “whatever they damn well wanted to do”.
The All-Stars’ records were always out of step with whatever else was going on at Motown, but not necessarily only because of their sound – rather, because they seemed to be following a different developmental path to everyone else, their idea of “progress” rather different to their labelmates.
This is very much in the same bag as Shotgun, something I’m sure Junior himself would have freely admitted, but it’s rougher, less nimble; there’s a heavy quality to this, a sort of toughness akin to the thudding, physical clomping of weighty work boots rather than dancing shoes. The playing’s not as tight, the timing’s off. Yet somehow it feels like a step forward anyway.
The sloppier play may be because these are possibly the actual All Stars themselves, rather than Motown’s house musicians the Funk Brothers (who’d been drafted in to provide a tidier performance on Shotgun), backing Junior – which, if it’s true, would explain a lot about the track’s more relaxed, all-friends-here feel. I’d have said it’s almost impossible to dislike this, except that so far I’ve found nobody who has a kind word to say about it; it’s universally written off as a tired retread of the Shotgun concept, more messily executed and less catchy. (Terry Wilson really sticks the boot in, calling it “a sedate plod… slapdash and half-hearted”). But I don’t think it’s like that at all.
Rather, I think that perhaps this actually, somehow, sums up the spirit of Shotgun – and thus the spirit of Junior Walker – better than Shotgun itself. The gleeful exuberance found on the big hit when Junior bellowed “We gonna – EAT TOM-AY-TAS! We gonna – DIG POT-AY-TAS!” is one of my favourite moments from Shotgun, and Do The Boomerang feels like it’s almost entirely been constructed using that bit as a template, like it’s got the best features of Shotgun coursing in its very DNA. By the time things break down to the point where Junior and the band just start chanting:
I said now:
Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!
Now, what’d I say?
…you’d begrudge them nothing.
This is a messy, dirty kind of a record, little-loved and completely at odds with everything else Motown was aiming for in the spring of 1965. It’s also brilliant. Go figure.
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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