B-side of Do Right Baby Do Right
(Written by Berry Gordy)
This is probably one of the most obscure sides we’ll cover here on Motown Junkies. I don’t mean necessarily that few people have heard it (although, let’s be honest, few people have heard it, a forgotten trifle which went uncollected on any album until the 21st Century), but rather that it’s a sort of artefact from a largely untold story. Like Marv Johnson, the Elgins or Jimmy Ruffin, each of whom has a stretch of “missing” years hidden from all but the most dedicated of Motown anoraks, there are whole swathes of Chris Clark’s Motown career which are patchily documented at best.
Clark, a 6ft blonde white singer who’s usually referred to as Motown’s answer to Dusty Springfield, was given a leg-up by label boss Berry Gordy taking a personal interest in launching her career (leading to no end of muttered innuendos), and so both sides of her first Motown 45 were written and produced by the big boss himself. But Don’t Be Too Long, which turns up here in our trundle towards the end of 1965 as the B-side from a hot new solo artist’s début single, wasn’t exactly fresh from Gordy’s pen; instead, what we have here is a curio, a piece of alternate history, a speculative example of what might have happened had Chris Clark gotten herself in front of a microphone at Motown a couple of years earlier instead of being stuck in the front office.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen one of these, but Don’t Be Too Long is actually a far older song (and band track), long-shelved and then hastily dusted off when Motown needed some new material in a pinch. In the early days of Hitsville, this sort of thing was fairly common – good songs were at a premium, and if a song had been canned (or a flop, or tucked away on an obscure artist’s B-side or album), chances are it could have a second chance at a premiere, that it could be passed off as new for a new audience who likely as not wouldn’t have heard the original. As Motown got bigger, the practice tailed off; the closest thing we’ve seen recently would be Brenda Holloway re-recording a load of rare and unreleased Mary Wells songs, I suppose.
In a way, its revival here marks the start of a new mid-Sixties approach on Motown’s part; Berry Gordy had been taken for a fool by unscrupulous publishers back in the 1950s when he was writing hits for Jackie Wilson, and so it had always been a central plank of his ambitious plans for Motown to own his own in-house publishing company. By 1966, Jobete Music Publishing was one of the most profitable pop music publishers in America, and there were now enough great songs (and band tracks) in the house style to be shared around liberally. A quick scan of any of the “big ticket” artists’ mid-60s albums (Temptations, Supremes, Four Tops, Vandellas, Marvin Gaye) will show numerous songs being used again and again, as singles or as filler, the effect amplified even more for lesser known acts. But there was no pretending these were new songs.
Don’t Be Too Long was presented as a new song, its original incarnation having been tremendously obscure. It’s actually a quick re-spray of a song Gordy had originally written and recorded back in 1962 for the long-forgotten Anita Knorl, who only seems to have recorded two songs that we know of during her time at Motown, and who had to wait until 2013 for one of them to be officially released. Very little is known about Miss Knorl, who won’t otherwise feature here on Motown Junkies, but it’s interesting to me that Chris Clark was given one of her old tracks.
Chris had done a great job on the A-side here, the blues-flavoured sass of Do Right Baby Do Right, but this B-side (a newly-recorded vocal pasted onto the old backing track) shows up her limitations a lot more. If you dig out last year’s excellent Finders Keepers: Motown Girls compilation and listen to the only extant public Anita Knorl track (which isn’t this one, sadly – it’s a different song called If Wishes Came True, co-written by Knorl and Smokey Robinson, bearing more than a passing similarity to what would become the Supremes’ lovely Your Heart Belongs To Me, and Youtube doesn’t seem to have a copy of it for your perusal), you’ll hear that Anita Knorl clearly had talent, but that on that song, her voice just doesn’t really jump out – it’s nice enough to listen to, but that’s about it.
And so it goes with Chris Clark here; she’s not bad as such, but she’s not great either, providing a limp, by-the-numbers run-through of a distinctly average helping of 1962 Motown. The song wasn’t good enough back then, and Chris Clark doesn’t do enough with it to somehow make it good enough now.
Of course, the material is likely more to blame than the singer. I keep seeing it described as having a blues feel, but really this is more of a jazzy R&B jaunt, if we’re sticking labels on things: a mid-level late-Fifties diva’s mid-set time-killer of a show tune, quite understandably left on the shelf when you go back to late 1962 and compare it to the much better songs being given to the likes of the Marvelettes, the Supremes, Mary Wells, the Vandellas or LaBrenda Ben. (Obviously we haven’t heard Anita Knorl’s original version, so caveats aplenty, it might be a revelation, though it seems somewhat unlikely). The slightly drippy bossa nova flavour and the slightly dippy lyrics (which stand in stark, shocking contrast to the self-sufficient sneer of the plug side) aren’t great, but it’s not a bad song, not really. The chorus is serviceable, the hook (“Don’t be too long – AWAY FROM ME”) might even get itself under your skin, but it’s all so shapeless it’s never going to win your heart. The only real stirring moment here is a breathless bounce up the scale just after two minutes (“Away from me, away from me”) which disappointingly turns out to be the start of a finalé, rather than a promising development; otherwise, it’s just sort of… there, really.
And I’m saying this as someone who likes a bit of Chris Clark – although I feel we’ve already passed her Motown high water mark, I think she had real talent but was misused on a series of increasingly unsuitable songs – I also feel I may have marked the A-side slightly too high (only slightly!) as a grateful reaction to it not being the Supremes’ Doctor Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine after two months, and now I’m probably about to mark this B-side too low due to it not being anywhere near as good as Do Right Baby Do Right; not only do I like this less and less each time I play it, in fact, the more I listen, the less it seems to have anything to do with the A-side at all. So much for bright new débuts.
It’s impossible for me to escape the mean-spirited thought that, really, she’s not bringing much to the party here, that despite being saddled with a deeply average song, any Motown vocalist could have done the same job with this material. It’s harder still to stop the nagging feeling that quite a few of them might well have managed to do better.
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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“Do Right Baby Do Right”
“Going To A Go-Go”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
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