b/w Pride And Joy – UK Only
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
“Tamla Motown”. A name full of memories and reactions for a generation of European fans, and a name that didn’t exist in America, Motown’s decision to exclusively license its UK releases through what was essentially an EMI vanity label meant two things.
Firstly, as only around a third of US Motown singles came out on Tamla Motown, it meant that – with a few notable exceptions – British listeners got a concentrated, quality-controlled feed of classic US Motown singles, stuff that had either sold in big numbers or picked up great word of mouth back home, adding to the legendary lustre of the black and silver labels, the constant hitmaker myth of Tamla Motown. (It’s never hyphenated. This is important.)
Secondly, because the British label operated at arm’s length from the Motown company (Tamla Motown was never actually a Motown subsidiary as such), on a very long leash and with minimal interference from Detroit – the policy was very much to just send the Brits everything, and then basically let them get on with it – the UK management had an unprecedented degree of freedom when it came to what they did and didn’t release. Not only were a majority of American Motown records never unleashed on the British market, but furthermore, the UK label wasted little time in delving into the back catalogue and replacing one (or both!) sides of a planned single, pulling an old album track instead.
They’d taken a couple of tentative steps in that direction already: when Motown cancelled Earl Van Dyke’s All For You in the home market, Tamla Motown in Europe went ahead and released it anyway; when compiling a four-track EP to introduce British listeners to Stevie Wonder, the UK operation sneaked on a rare album cut, The Square, which had never appeared on a US 45. Now, we get another great leap forward: the first genuine UK-only Motown single.
Back in 1964, after repeated (and increasingly angry) requests, Motown live bandleader Walter “Choker” Campbell had finally been given the dubious “privilege” of cutting an album of his own – only to discover the label had no intention of funding 40 minutes of hardcore jazz-blues, and Choker’s LP Hits of the Sixties (left) turned out to be nothing but reworkings of Motown pop hits already recorded by other people.
(Unlike Earl Van Dyke and the Funk Brothers, who – in almost exactly the same situation – found themselves saddled with a box of original backing track tapes and told to overdub a new organ line where the vocals should have gone, Choker recorded all his versions live, starting with a blank sheet of paper, and so the results are actually usually more listenable. But not by all that much.)
Fast forward to the summer of 1965. Over in London, Tamla Motown were sent Campbell’s flop 7″ from six months earlier, Come See About Me, a bizarre but undeniably vigorous take on the Supremes hit, which the American label had (wrongly) hoped would help flog a few copies of the Hits of the Sixties LP. Noting the home release had failed, but needing to promote the album all the same, Tamla Motown, apparently acting on their own initiative, junked Come See About Me, and opted instead to release another track from Choker’s LP instead, thus creating the first bona fide UK-only Motown single. This one.
Unlike Van Dyke, Campbell wasn’t identified with a particular instrument, and so the various instrumental cuts on Hits of the Sixties are a more varied bunch than the “Soul” Brothers’ organ-led reworkings. Choker’s version of Mickey’s Monkey is a case in point; the old Miracles original is so thoroughly deconstructed here, rebuilt as a taut, springy two-minute light jazz showcase for percussion and horns that doesn’t even become recognisable as Mickey’s Monkey at all until about a third of the way through, so much so that it’s less a cover version and more Choker’s own variation on a theme – Fantasia on Mickey’s Monkey for drums and flute, movement III.
Quite why Tamla Motown assumed Brits would lap this up is anyone’s guess (the Miracles’ original had never been a hit over here, but this bears so little resemblance to it that that’s hardly likely to have been a factor either way). More than anything, it sounds like an American high school marching band taking on Mickey’s Monkey as pre-game entertainment before a local sports contest; it’s exotic (jazz flute! maracas!) and largely alien to the drab radio landscape of postwar Britain, and so maybe there was an element of escapism in the pick, the promise of bluer skies and palm trees and Space Age appliances and wide empty roads.
But it’s not the easiest sort of easy listening (for a start, the atmosphere’s more in keeping with I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying than Mickey’s Monkey), and while I appreciate Choker’s attempts to rein the thing in and steer clear of the chasm of cheesy mass-consumption “jazz” that yawns just a few metres to the right of what he’s done here, it’s probably at the expense of any actual Light Programme radio play lest it frighten the housewives too much.
What’s left is kind of fun, in a pleasant enough polite early-Sixties jazz rock-out sort of way; that flute is an interesting atmospheric touch, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find myself tapping my foot along while it was playing. But it’s preposterously short, and (maybe as a result?) it feels almost completely ephemeral, leaving almost no impression at all on its transient way through; a highly unusual choice for a first UK-only Motown single. I very much approve of Tamla Motown sticking their necks out to make their own choices; I’m only confused that they didn’t do it for something a bit, well, better.
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!)
Motown Junkies has reviewed other Motown versions of this song:
- The Miracles (July 1963)
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