(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
B-side of Put Yourself In My Place
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
And so with this last 7″ side, 1965 is finally done. Aside from being the year that nearly broke Motown Junkies (for which I really am terribly sorry), Motown’s seventh year was the company’s most successful to date in terms of both overall sales and sheer profile, with the label now in rude financial health and making, rather than chasing, the nation’s tastes; put crudely, Motown was bigger and better than ever.
We close out the year with a hit, as the Elgins (formerly the Downbeats) take full advantage of their outstanding new singer Saundra Mallett Edwards to provide a double-sided chart threat; although nominally listed as the flip, Darling Baby handily outshone the supposed A-side Put Yourself In My Place to hit the R&B top five and make a bigger splash on the pop chart (still more of a ripple, landing in the 70s as opposed to the 90s, but an improvement nonetheless.) It’s easy to see why, too – while at first blush this one appears to have “B-side” written in its stars, a slow, aimless ballad compared to the tearful sweetened pop rush of the plug side, on closer inspection Darling Baby is actually the better song and the better record.
In short, this single is more of an introduction to the Elgins than the A-side had been; their history as the Downbeats being unknown to all but a few die-hard doo-woppers, fans were able to treat them as a new group, and sure enough we feel we’ve gotten to know them better by the end of Darling Baby despite Put Yourself In My Place being arguably more “in character” – and the main reason for that newfound familiarity is Saundra on lead, given room to bloom with spectacular results.
More than anything, Darling Baby is food for the theory that pop music can’t be reduced to, well, theory. The peerless Holland-Dozier-Holland writing and production team were behind this one (although the often-repeated “factoid” that Lamont Dozier supposedly based the song on his own long-forgotten Motown single Dearest One turns out to be entirely unfounded, the songs sound nothing alike) – so, according to the formula, their track record plus the patented Holland-Dozier-Holland juxtaposition of light, bouncy pop melodies and heart-wrenching lyrics which had worked so well for the Supremes and Four Tops should also have been the Elgins’ trump card.
Instead, here, while they still remember to pack the thing with hooks (there’s a reason black radio lapped this one up), HDH scale things back and carve out some space to stretch their legs, the band lazily reciprocate, and the Elgins themselves – their falsetto all-male harmonies confusing listeners for decades – settle into the downtempo jazzy lolloping groove like a pair of comfortable slippers. It’s all set up to introduce and support their new lady singer, the missing ingredient which turned the deeply average Downbeats into the much-admired Elgins, and she doesn’t disappoint.
It would be wrong to paint this as being solely Saundra’s show (although it certainly feels like it at times, she’s magnetic); rather, this is an elaborately designed production which allows Saundra to take centre stage, the irregular verse metre setting out a vocal line which leaves her some headroom for vocal acrobatics while still gently hemming her in with just enough of a defined tune and internal rhyme structure to carry the listener along. It’s a fine performance, too, and if we still don’t quite believe she’s ready to be acknowledged right away as one of the great female Motown leads, she brings in a whole host of influences that show the kind of quality she was now able to bring to the table: a little bit of Billie Holliday here, a little bit of Ella Fitzgerald there, now Etta James, now Martha Reeves, now Aretha.
It’s not an easy song to sing, as the opportunity of a starring vocal showcase brings with it a lot of responsibility, but Saundra handles the heavy lifting so well that it’s almost too nonchalant, it needs a few listens before you realise just what a great job she’s pulled off here. Right from the start, the weight is on her shoulders – DAR-ling baby! Life is so LONE-ly without you! – and she nails it so comprehensively it takes a while to even think about how badly ruined the song would be if she’d hesitated or missed her mark, if someone else had done it less well. Nobody was foolish enough to try; we won’t meet a Motown cover of this for another eleven years.
Best of all, she deals with the song’s main defining feature, the way the last line of each verse refuses to stop, triples in length and rolls off the end of the production line, carrying on after it’s run out of room, bleeding into a whole new verse of its own, and is then kept from falling to the floor solely by Saundra’s vocal dexterity and charm –
…Since you left these arms of MINE, I’ve been alone, TRYing, wondering WHY, you left me be-HIND… DAR-ling, baby!
Listen to these two sides back to back, and it’s that bit you end up singing in the shower. That or the irresistibly plaintive “let’s talk it over… (PERFECTLY JUDGED PAUSE)… one more time!” from the end. Straight out of a dozen other playbooks, but no less effective for it.
On first impressions, months and months ago when I was first preparing these reviews, I’d put these two sides the other way around; I saw Put Yourself In My Place as the underrated pop gem and Darling Baby as an entertaining, diverting but ultimately less substantial kickaround to introduce a new singer. (Given the original A-side/B-side designations on this 45, I wasn’t alone, Motown seem to have felt the same way). But even though this side is maybe a slower burn, it ultimately gives a brighter light; the work that’s gone into this is staggering, and the results get better with every listen. A perfect note to end the year here on Motown Junkies; again, my apologies that it took so long for us to get here. Bring on ’66.
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 the Elgins? Click for more.)
“Put Yourself In My Place”
|Martha & the Vandellas
“My Baby Loves Me”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.