b/w By Some Chance
(Written by Arthur Mastor, John Miller and Hal Davis)
I’ve no idea what to make of this at all. Perhaps appropriately, given the title, this is one of the most bizarre records we’ve yet come across; it’s one of those unusual Motown 45s which isn’t a comedy record per se, and yet which still tries to raise a smile all the same.
Everything about He’s An Oddball is just strange – the lyrics (presumably intentionally), the music (possibly intentionally), the vocals (presumably not at all intentionally). If John Barry were called upon to write a knockoff Bond theme for a forgettable but well-intentioned spoof spy flick, and he banged his head on the way to the studio and scribbled all over his notes, and then someone else had to finish the song because Mr Barry was on his way to hospital having that head wound seen to, this might plausibly be the result.
So, to that end, this opens with a massive, blaring horn riff, empty and bombastic but still cinematic in almost every sense, lending proceedings an air of phony gravitas and grandeur – and then, enter the Lewis Sisters, and everything sort of crashes.
Helen and Kay Lewis, stalwarts of Motown’s West Coast office, had originally come west from Michigan, cutting a variety of novelty records before ending up in Los Angeles as Hal Davis’ preferred backing singers and palette-mixers. They ended up more valuable to Motown as writers than performers (as well as the handful of 45s they wrote – including Just Walk In My Shoes for Gladys Knight and the Pips – they also penned lots of album tracks and demos like Marvin Gaye’s superb should-have-been-a-single This Love Starved Heart Of Mine), but they made themsleves so useful to the LA office that they ended up with an artist contract too, and this was their début single. Written not by Helen and Kay but rather credited to their husbands, both women hated it; a funny way for Motown to show gratitude.
The sisters (they apparently alternate the lead vocals on this between them, by their own account) proceed to tell the story of the narrator’s weirdo boyfriend, never quite making it clear whether they love him because he’s a strange’un, or despite his unusual behaviour. Either way, they pronounce every syllable in a really strange accent, slowly, as if giving each banal word its due consideration, rolling their tongues, stretching and flattening vowels, rendering the key word in the title (which ends every verse tercet) as Ard-borla, as in:
Though you may not approve
Think he’s not in the groove
He’s my Ard-borla!
He sets the pace
My sweet funny face
They call Ard-borla!
…and so on. I think it’s for comic effect, rather than it being the way they actually talk, but it’s ridiculous. But then the ridiculous just keeps on coming. This record features piercing, hellish, high-pitched moans from the backing singers (ODDBALL! WHOOO! ODD-BALL! OOOH!), panning in from nowhere like wounded ghosts. This record features a breakdown where the sisters go SHHHH! Dont’cha let him hear you! SHHHH! Better keep it quiet!. This record wastes two lines to feature the titular oddball inventing a new dance of his own to rival the Jerk, called “the Twine”, of which we never hear any more. This record features the most over-the-top production since Tony Martin.
This record’s actually quite good fun.
Quite possibly the silliest thing we’ve yet covered here on Motown Junkies, but I don’t find it anywhere near as annoying as some listeners apparently have. It crops up quite regularly on lists of the worst Motown records of all time, and I can understand why you’d maybe have that reaction, but it’s certainly not actually as bad as advertised once you get past the silliness. One Amazon reviewer, misunderstanding the concept of “complete”, suggested The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 5 was a rip-off because it included some niche ephemera alongside the big hits from the Supremes, Tops, Temptations, Vandellas, Marvin Gaye etc., and singled this out by name as the poster-child for weird Motown side projects. Quite honestly, though, if all weird Motown side projects were this entertaining, or at least this entertainingly strange, the world would have been a better place.
This is very, very silly, and it has nothing at all to do with anything else Motown was up to in the summer of 1965 – but it’s catchy, and it knows how strange it is and carries on anyway, and I can’t bring myself to get too angry with it.
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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“By Some Chance”
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