b/w My Baby
B-side of My Baby
(Released in the UK under license via EMI / Tamla Motown)
Mid-year in 1965 is a strange sort of time for these Smokey Robinson groups, isn’t it? I can’t imagine what listeners at the time would have made of this recent run of sides we’ve had here on Motown Junkies. It’s not that the Smokey-penned material Motown was releasing at the same time, both for himself and for his protegés, was bad or anything, it’s just that taken together, these songs seem to suggest a lack of direction, a sense of progression.
That sense of confusion is heightened when it comes to Don’t Look Back. The A-side here, My Baby, a slight but slinky pop number in the style of Mary Wells, had been merely okay; nice enough on its own, especially given David Ruffin’s beautiful lead vocal (which I now realise I barely touched upon when writing the review), but a strange blip in the seemingly never-ending sequence of great Temptations/Smokey singles we’ve enjoyed since the summer of 1964. Don’t Look Back, which picked up enough airplay (especially on black radio) to chart in its own right, makes far more sense as a single; it’s clearly coming from the same musical place as the Miracles’ most recent 45, the underwhelming My Girl Has Gone, rather than anything the Temptations have turned their hands to of late, but it’s both a better song and a better record, and so it’s no surprise the DJs were keen to flip this one over to find the goodies underneath.
For a start, the lyrics to this one actually make sense, the narrator urging their hesitant, recently-dumped would-be lover to let go of the past and stop letting fear of rejection hold them back. It’s a nice idea for a song, well-executed by Smokey, suddenly reminding us what a great lyricist he really was after three uncharacteristic misses in a row. And it scans well, too; much was made in the comment section of the charming simplicity of My Baby, but I feel those comments would be much more appropriate here, the smiley, youthful insouciance of Eddie’s high harmonies (The past is behind you, let nothing remind you!) bursting with the kind of spiritual sunshine feeling we now see was missing from the A-side. If the backing vocals are more of a pounding chant than the presumably intended nod to the lush harmonies of My Girl – the group coming across more like the Spinners than the Temptations (or Mary Wells) – well, the effect is still striking. There’s scarcely any better sound in pop music than the Temptations in full flow when they were really enjoying themselves, and that’s a large part of what makes Don’t Look Back so much fun.
Musically, too, it’s a lovely record, the high, twisting strings calling to mind Jackie Ross’ magnificent Trust In Me, and underlining just what a half-finished hack-job My Girl Has Gone really was – Don’t Look Back isn’t such a very different song to that Miracles single, and it’s clear that with a bit more care and attention, a bit more love, that one might have been as good as this one. Because this one’s excellent.
The best thing about this, though, is Paul Williams, the forgotten man of the Temptations’ trio of lead singers, the voice of those early days (and in particular of Just Let Me Know, a surefire hit single whose relegation to B-side status seemingly took Paul down with it). Pushed aside first by the prodigious devleopment of Eddie Kendricks from wayward falsetto to angelic songbird, and then by the parachuting-in of musical lightning rod David Ruffin, opportunities for Paul to sing lead were now few and far between, and when they do come along they’re almost always moments to treasure. Here, he’s on particularly fine form, all gravelly and earthy, as though he’s already been pleading for hours by the time the record opens to catch him in mid-flow; his voice is nowhere near as technically strong as either Eddie or David, he often doesn’t quite nail the notes he’s going for, and yet he’s so utterly, completely believable that he absolutely makes this song. We’re left under no illusions that this time, for once, after the record’s over, the narrator is definitely going to get the girl.
This should have been the A-side; this should have been the way the Miracles approached My Girl Has Gone. Should, should, should. What it is, though, is another excellent Temptations single. We won’t be meeting them again for six months; Don’t Look Back is good enough to make that temporary parting hurt.
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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