B-side of Buttered Popcorn
Northern Soul aficionados might be familiar with this driving R&B concoction, as it was once quite popular on the scene. And it works in that context, there’s no doubt; it’s easy on the ear, it’s got a massive bass kick to it, the high harmonies are both pretty and ambitious.
In fact, it sounds like the work of a completely different group than the raucous, vacuous Supremes cover (Buttered Popcorn) that “graced” the A-side of the Vows’ one and only Motown single; this is West Coast R&B-pop-rock all the way, practically made for blasting out of your car radio with the top down on some Pacific highway, sweeter and smoother than anything we heard on the other side.
But it’s a mess. Seams come undone, joins are clearly visible, cues are missed, notes are dropped, harmonies waver. And, in a way, that’s all made worse when you’re trying for that elusive mix of hot and sweet that powers so many of the great Motown singles. When you’re tearing it up on a Contours-lite rocker like the A-side, you can get away with playing fast and loose; sloppy arrangements and shonky playing might even add to the charm. But here, when it’s meant to be a beautiful, exciting pop rush, every mistake counts.
It’s actually a really nice little song, or an idea for a song at least, done in an amateurish fashion. I don’t know why, but it’s never really stuck in my mind when playing through The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 5, being rather forgettable, weirdly so considering the strangeness of some of the moments here. Now, though, when I come to stick it under the microscope, what I hear is the germ of a good song that needed some more polish, and a group who needed another couple of takes to get everything just right.
Of course, history will record that neither of those things came to pass. The Vows recorded two more cuts at Motown that have since surfaced on the excellent A Cellarful of Motown! series, both more in keeping with Tell Me than Buttered Popcorn (which is to say, decent songs done sloppily): the driving Northern stomper Show Girl, and My Baby Changes Like The Weather, which sounds like the early Temptations after a few drinks. But they won’t be troubling us again here on Motown Junkies.
As for Tell Me? The song was dusted off for another group (the Versatiles, later to become better known – after leaving Motown – as the 5th Dimension) to have a crack at it, but their version remains in the vaults, and pretty soon the song was lost to history. It’s a shame, though, because – scruffy though it is – this is really rather pleasant.
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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