B-side of You Need Me
B-side of You Need Me
(Licensed for British release via EMI/Tamla Motown)
This is awfully pretty. I’m a sap when it comes to unabashed loveliness, and when it’s done in 6/8 time like this, the “ice cream” changes of classic doo-wop vintage used to good effect, well, I can’t really resist.
Motown boss Berry Gordy and his little brother Robert (credited on the sheet music as “Cy Martin and Bob Kay”!) here turn in a strange, echoey Fifties barcarolle that sums up its title perfectly, landing somewhere between the Flamingos and Debussy. This is the last time we’ll be meeting Helen and Kay Lewis as artists here on Motown Junkies – indeed, it’s almost the last time we’ll meet them at all, because most of their excellent songwriting efforts ended up either unreleased or tucked away on albums, and thus outside the scope of this blog – but it’s a fine way to say goodbye.
The sisters were always better writers than singers, and their high, reedy, weird vocals have been a distinguishing feature of their three Motown sides to date, but here – while they’re still as thin and high and strange as ever – it really suits the material, adding to the ghostly, blissed-out atmosphere of the rest of the track.
Plus, it’s really pretty. Did I mention that?
There’s almost nothing to this, it’s a wafer-thin piece of fluff on the wind, almost confrontational in its use of those generic, archetypally 50s changes. And, okay, as mentioned, the sisters can’t sing (though Carol Kaye using that as a plank for her outlandish claims is out of line. It’s Ms Kaye’s contention that she recorded nearly all the biggest mid-Sixties Motown hits in Los Angeles, with the Lewis Sisters – their microphones switched off – unwittingly serving as guide vocalists, with Motown throwing them a couple of bones in the form of “terrible” singles to keep them quiet; she mentioned Moonlight On The Beach by name. But they’re nowhere near that bad.)
So why do I like it? I like it because Berry Gordy – for all his worldly cynicism, his street smarts, his rock and roll nous, his ruthless business acumen – was, deep down, like me, a sucker for a pretty tune, and here he’s written a quite beautiful one. There were no other Motown versions of Moonlight On The Beach, but I can imagine Smokey or the Marvelettes having an absolute blast with this. It’s completely unpretentious, there are no dark lyrical themes to contend with, it’s just a song about how nice it is to be walking arm-in-arm with your sweetheart by the sea at night-time. Which means that whilst it’s about as cool and soulful as a warm soufflé, it’s not concerned with trying to impress you or your friends; it only wants to be pretty.
And pretty it sure is: no masterpiece, to be sure, badly sung and nothing at all to do with Motown in the summer of 1965, but when we hit the middle eight and the strings swell and the melody soars up towards that coastal night sky – “Moonlight brings a thrill / Moving hands of time, stand still” – all faults are forgiven, and your heart could melt.
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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“You Need Me”
“Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)”
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