B-side of As Long As There Is L-O-V-E Love
(Written by Johnny Gilliam, Sylvester Potts and Norman Whitfield)
There’s an excellent story about Jimmy Ruffin in the liner notes for The Complete Motown Singles: Volume 5. The Contours were falling apart, and following a meeting of Motown’s top brass (to which he wasn’t invited), Jimmy was told – not asked, told – to become the group’s new lead singer. Ruffin made himself no friends by turning the “offer” down flat, even though A&R chief Mickey Stevenson warned Jimmy that he was making a mistake.
Which is interesting. As well as perhaps going some way to explaining why this was only Jimmy Ruffin’s third Motown 45 in a span of almost five years (and the theme of Jimmy being labelled “difficult” in the corridors of power at Hitsville is one we’ll revisit soon enough), it adds some extra spice to this B-side, co-written by the Contours’ Sylvester Potts. This, perhaps, is a glimpse into an alternate future, a taste of what audiences might have missed out on had we received a string of mid-Sixties singles from Jimmy Ruffin & The Contours.
It’s a tantalising glimpse, too, all told: this world we never really got to see is a world where Potts developed as a Motown writer, perhaps becoming Norman Whitfield’s palette-mixer in place of the great Barrett Strong; a world where Jimmy Ruffin developed his ever-stronger voice in a group context rather than cutting solo material. I don’t know how well Jimmy might have done as a frontman (even at his best, his voice was never what you’d call high-powered, it’s all about nuance and ebb and flow and frailty, a wounded man lost among the big notes), but what we can say for sure is that he’s comfortable singing songs like this.
Whitfield is careful not to overwhelm his singer, and so instead of a full-on aural assault, we get rippling blues guitar, muted horns, starkly exposed drums, minimalist female backing vocals. The effect is to ease Jimmy into the song, the listener tapping along; it’s all nice enough, but it feels a bit unadventurous, a bit rote.
The big chorus (and it really is big, much too big for the song) comes almost out of nowhere – leaping up the stave, How-Can-I-Say? stabbed out in staccato bursts – and it’s clumsily executed, tripping over itself a couple of times before shuffling off stage in an embarrassed rush. A stop-start mini-crescendo, it’s partnered up later on with a stop-start mini-fanfare of horns, and the impression it ends up leaving is a song that offers too little followed by too much, an uneven and somehow unsatisfying experience.
Still, there’s lots of promise too; the lyrics probably needed another draft before finding their way into Jimmy’s hands, but the trial metaphor in the last verse is a great touch (maybe it’s just the lawyer in me!), and the tune in that chorus is the germ of something special, completely wasted here. It just doesn’t sound like it’s quite finished, which is a pity.
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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“As Long As There Is L-O-V-E Love”
“We Call It Fun”
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