B-side of Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
(Written by Clarence Paul and Ted Hull)
B-side of Uptight (Everything’s Alright)
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
The light and fury of the A-side Uptight had been a quantum leap from what had gone before in so many ways, suggesting a new beginning for Stevie Wonder as one of Motown’s brightest new stars. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the vestiges of the long years of slog from Little Stevie would take time to eradicate; the journey to Innervisions is now underway, but there are a lot of stops along that road.
Even with that in mind, it’s a jarring experience to find something like Purple Rain Drops coming straight on the heels of Uptight: a throwback in more ways than one. This is a two-year-old recording, a slow bluesy ballad joint which would sound out of place even if it was an instrumental, but the circumstances make it even more glaring, the difference between 13 and 15 readily evident in Stevie’s shaky, gangly voice.
What we have here, effectively, is a rehash of (or, given the timescales involved, a dry run for) Tears In Vain, not bad as such but showing its age in a disheartening fashion. It’s clunky, it’s stitched together with no great care, it lurches from hook to hook in an ungainly manner… it’s the sound not of Motown in 1963, but of Stevie two years previously, the live show firecracker who couldn’t really yet master a tender ballad and whose musical development trod such a different path to his labelmates as to make his story almost irrelevant.
To add to the old-school flavour, Stevie’s schoolmasterly tutor Ted Hull – a key figure for the unsophisticated dirt-poor blind tween as he grew up away from home and out on tour, but marginalised as the mature artist developed – gets a writing credit (the subject of some controversy, Hull implying in his autobiography that Clarence Paul’s contribution was minimal at best, while another anecdote has Uptight producer Mickey Stevenson only half-jokingly accusing Hull of “getting a free ride” on this B-side and subtly warning him not to get any more ideas about becoming a songwriter).
Motown, too, seem to have had mixed feelings about Purple Rain Drops, leaving it gathering dust for two years and then sneaking it out on the flip here (with no indication that Uptight would blow up like this) before never mentioning it again. Unusually for a big-ticket Motown B-side as late as 1965, Purple Rain Drops never features on any studio LP or vaguely contemporary greatest hits collection.
And it’s understandable; this song begat another demo, Purple Snow Flakes, which eventually became Marvin Gaye’s astonishing Pretty Little Baby, while all the time the “original” languished on the shelf. It’s pretty in its own way – the guitars are lovely, and the key refrain, Stevie cooing oh what am I gonna do?, straight out of one of Clarence Paul’s Supremes country and western cuts – but it’s impossible to ignore the context, ignore the glaring, flashing signs that mark this out as the work of a boy on the wrong side of the cusp of adolescence. I don’t just mean the reedy, wavering singing, but the whole package; everything about Uptight suggested the future, whereas Purple Rain Drops is a trip back into Stevie’s cupboard under the stairs.
This is noodling fare, background music, middle of side two stuff; pleasant enough, but I wanted to hear more from the new Stevie Wonder, the Stevie as introduced on the A-side, the Stevie as we now know him. Whatever the reasons for exhuming Purple Rain Drops, this just isn’t him any more.
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.
(Or maybe you’re only interested in Stevie Wonder? Click for more.)
“Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”
“A Bird In The Hand (Is Worth Two In The Bush)”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.