B-side of You’re Gonna Love My Baby
(Written by Ron Miller and Coleridge Taylor Perkinson)
B-side of You’re Gonna Love My Baby
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
Barbara McNair was probably Motown’s greatest signing from the MOR end of the musical spectrum, and if the soulful touches of her début You’re Gonna Love My Baby had looked not to scare away Motown’s growing fanbase, the spectre of Barbara’s variety show background stalks this B-side far more prominently.
Effectively, what we have here is something in the vein of the non-Brel covers that dot Scott Walker’s first three albums – it’s big, it’s stately, it’s pompous and stagey but undeniably powerful with it. You’re Gonna Love My Baby had been Motown’s most proficient nod towards Tin Pan Alley, but this is even closer to the real deal, the first of Motown’s “Stein & Van Stock” pseudostandard efforts to genuinely sound like a cover of something from days past.
But let’s not forget: a lot of hokey standards only became standards because they contained the germ of a great tune under all the fluff and feathers, something Scott Walker was quick to recognise, and so it goes with The Touch Of Time. If there’s no danger of this being mistaken for a Brenda Holloway or Mary Wells, as the A-side might have been, it’s still catchy and sweet.
On the face of it, this is a song which sounds important and deep and contemplative, but it’s really paper-thin. Dig deeper, though, and you find… not very much, as it happens. This is a puffed-up sort of a song, which takes a promising trope – narrator harks back to happier times, recalls she wished for time to stand still, notes time has resolutely failed to do any such thing, laments current situation – and conveys it through lots of pretentious, portentous waffle that probably sounded better on the page (or in co-writer Ron Miller’s head, picturing this as the ruminative second-act stretch of some imaginary Broadway show) than it does on record.
Love was all we needed then, love beyond sublime… Time, stay away from our hill… the effect is more Barbra Streisand than Barbara McNair.
(Oh, yes, the hook is “Time stay away from our hill” – there’s some sort of confused metaphor about love being like a hill the protagonists successfully climbed in their youth, or something, but it doesn’t completely make sense, working only as a rhyme to Miss McNair’s tearfully pleading Time, please stand still.)
There’s the rub, though, isn’t it? Miss McNair’s tearful pleading, not the actual words. Like the A-side – more so, in fact – it’s a record that relies on Miss McNair to do all the heavy lifting, and she’s got the experience and the voice to carry it off properly, making something meaningful out of all the cloying verbiage. She handles this magnificently, as if it really were deep and meaningful, and she sings it quite beautifully, perfectly at home in the stately surroundings. Just like Scott Walker (who I’ll stop mentioning in a moment), she has a gift for teasing out the transcendent in hokey material, and she does it very well on The Touch of Time; the filigree fripperies of the production and arrangement (not least the doom-laden crashing piano chords of the intro, but also the strings, the angelic backing vocals, the call-and-response section at the end) are made to make sense by Barbara’s delivery, taking it all seriously enough to connect. And it does connect, no matter what defences I’d put up in readiness for its best shot.
Once again, it’s a record that has almost nothing to do with Motown in 1965, but it’s done with no little skill and ends up getting under my skin more than I’d anticipated or wanted. Good show, in every sense.
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’re Gonna Love My Baby”
“Children’s Christmas Song”
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