b/w Tell Me
(Written by Berry Gordy and Barney Ales)
First things first, this isn’t Richard “Popcorn” Wylie making a return to Motown. Not only does it sound nothing like him (in fact, if we’re going to compare it to any early Motown figure from the distant past, it’s more like Andre Williams – with a bonus dash of James Brown thrown in), but the compilers of The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 5 asked him outright, playing him a copy of Buttered Popcorn for good measure which elicited no recognition. It ain’t him, folks.
That aside, the Vows appear to fall into the same category as the Hit Pack a few entries ago: with the real Contours having hit personal problems and seemingly on the verge of disintegration, Motown were in the market for a gang of raucuous, lunk-headed dance rockers. Enter the Vows, previously heard as backing singers on some of VIP’s West Coast Motown productions, stepping up for their audition.
(Of course, the Contours – or a new version thereof – would soon come back in full force, meaning there was no longer a vacancy on the Motown release schedules. Whether for that reason, or simply because it’s not very good, this was the Vows’ one and only Motown single.)
There’s another claim to Motown fame here, though, which does pan out: yes, this is indeed a cover of a long-forgotten Supremes single from the years when they weren’t even famous enough to be called the “no-hit Supremes”, an ill-advised experiment in Motown history which almost consigned their most successful group to the ashcan with the falsest of false starts, and one of the only times we’ll ever get to talk about a Florence Ballard lead vocal here on Motown Junkies. Buttered Popcorn always felt like the Supremes were entirely the wrong sort of group for the song; now, some four years later, Motown put that theory to the test, giving it to a bunch of crazy sandpaper-rough male rockers instead.
The results? Not great.
The song certainly works better in these circumstances, with a group tearing loose and hollering all over it (and putting on a series of silly voices while they’re at it), but the fact that we’re namechecking the likes of Williams and Brown just illustrates what an uphill struggle poor Flo was facing trying to make it work for the Supremes instead. If it was supremely (ha!) out of character there, though, it doesn’t really get much better when it’s undeniably in character here; the Vows are much more suited to the song, and they turn it into the hellraising, sweaty R&B workout it was clearly always meant to be, but that only goes to show what a poor song it was in the first place, the flirtation with the Supremes a red herring.
If you came to this not knowing anything about it, you’d think I was mad when I told you it was a cover of a Supremes song, written (implied dirty jokes and all) with a bunch of naïve schoolgirls in mind. But the more appropriate stylistic changes can only take it so far, and Flo’s game attempts at saucy asides and throaty giggles are sadly missed when the only alternative is a guy screaming like a second-rate Billy Gordon.
Better than the original, but that’s not saying much; it’s still both stupid and annoying, and without the Supremes connection, I’m not sure anyone would pay this any attention at all.
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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