(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
B-side of You’ve Been In Love Too Long
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
There’s something a bit strange about both sides of this, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ first single in months, and after much listening I think it’s to do with Martha’s singing. The Vandellas had stormed back to the top of their game with Nowhere To Run back at the start of 1965, but (as discussed when talking about the A-side You’ve Been In Love Too Long) there was no Holland-Dozier-Holland follow-up single. This B-side, a melodramatic ballad, is as close as we’ll ever get to that non-existent sequel here on Motown Junkies; despite its fundamentally alien sound, a breathless, meandering torch song strapped to the bones of a 6/8 doo-wop skeleton, Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things) still picked up enough radio play to chart in its own right anyway.
Not enough to chart particularly high, or anything: number 70 with a bullet on the pop charts, though interestingly black radio actually pushed this a couple of places higher than You’ve Been In Love Too Long on the R&B listings. If I were to venture a guessplanation for that, I’d say that the rip-snorting stomp of You’ve Been In Love Too Long was one of several records, even several Motown records, with that sound at that time all jockeying for position on a DJ’s radar, whereas there’s almost nothing in the world that sounds like this. And it makes sense that it would chart, too – lots of people hate it, I know that from experience, but lots of people love it. I love it. So does Martha Reeves herself, if you want a more respected judge: she’s on record saying this is one of her favourites among all her many recordings.
As with the A-side, Martha makes this what it is. With respect to the other Vandellas, and whoever else was supposedly being employed on the track to augment their harmonies, this is Miss Reeves’ show – and just like on You’ve Been In Love Too Long, here we find her doing something remarkable, something new. At times it seems as though she’s lost sight of the tune, at times it seems she’s struggling to get her note, but again, never does it seem unintentional; rather, it’s somehow more raw, more honest, more direct, straight from Martha’s heart to ours. Hardly the stuff of weekday drivetime, but if you heard this on the radio, love it or loathe it, it’d stick with you the rest of the day.
The Holland-Dozier-Holland trio, who weren’t known for tired retreads of outdated trends and didn’t turn in very many conventional doo-wops, here take a Smokeyesque delight in subverting the form and taking it somewhere altogether stranger and darker. I understand how it could come across as a wonky doo-wop ballad gone awry, but it’s always struck me as so much more interesting than that. The lyrics call for the narrator to open her heart in a frank and self-abasing fashion, and with that in mind, Martha’s recollections of the recording of this song, as reported in The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 5, are illuminating. According to Martha, the text struck such a chord with her that she poured her whole soul into its delivery, to the point of insisting any non-single men vacate the studio while she sang (“go and get something from the candy machine”) – not in case they distracted her, but in case she ended up accidentally seducing them.
Is her performance as captured on record enough to make you believe her Helen of Troy act? On the one hand, you could say that yes, actually, it’s not far off – one moment she’s belting out notes with the most power we’ve ever heard from her, the next she’s calling out in pain (FUNNY, how precious memories linger on…), the next softly purring in our ear – and so she wasn’t just being vain. But to take things a step further, you could also say it’s not really important, not compared with the bizarre spectacle of a top-drawer Motown singer being convinced that, in the combination of these words, this tune, her voice, and her own latent sexuality, she was dealing with something so mysterious and powerful it needed to be handled with extreme care, to be used sparingly and never for evil; it not only tells you what was going through Martha’s mind when she sang this, it tells you what sort of artist we’re dealing with here. Can you imagine that story coming from Diana Ross?
I come away from this feeling as though I’ve just had an experience I can’t really describe. It doesn’t fit in easily with the rest of either Motown’s catalogue, or that of the Vandellas, not even to the extent it can be called a throwback or a regression (because it certainly isn’t that.) It’s whistleable, it’s weird, and it’s done with wholehearted commitment; it ticks all my boxes.
Now, I don’t think either side of this single is a masterpiece – they’re both too rough-edged and frequently bewildering to be counted among Martha and the Vandellas’ very best work. What I do believe is that, with these two sides, the group were reaching in the dark for something they couldn’t quite grasp, something entirely new, defying total understanding (theirs and ours). They’re both excellent records, completely different and yet somehow both excellent in an oddly similar way. This one, strangely-punctuated title and all, is probably my favourite of the two, not least because – just like Martha – I feel its power is still only shakily understood, and not to be taken lightly.
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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|Martha & the Vandellas
“You’ve Been In Love Too Long”
“High Heel Sneakers”
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