B-side of Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)
(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
B-side of Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Tamla Motown)
Okay, this is going to be excellent again, isn’t it?
Alright, for me, at this point in 1966, it’s pretty much a given that every big-ticket Motown single is going to be good, and probably most of the small-ticket ones as well; a Four Tops/Holland-Dozier-Holland collaboration, even a B-side, is as close to a sure thing as anything can be even before the needle drops. But in this case, I mean that when the needle did drop (or, well, more accurately but boringly/prosaically, I pressed play on the FLAC file), it only took me a few seconds of the intro and first verse to decide that, yep, this is going to be ending in another big green number. Sorry to spoil the surprise, but, hey, let’s not focus on how they’re doing this, and instead just enjoy the Golden Age ride. Again.
The intro is just immediately likeable, almost comfortable, if that’s not damning with faint praise (it’s not meant to be!); staccato rhythms, a jangly, looped off-time guitar riff and sweet strings give way to a lazy drumbeat, sweet backing vocals, and a tune you can just immediately grasp. Even if you knew nothing about how Motown – and HDH – put together their records, bringing in singers for overdubs on pre-recorded band and choir tracks, you could guess it from the first verse of Just As Long As You Need Me, the Andantes and Tops following that bumping beat and looped guitar figure with a pretty, singalong tune, and then Levi Stubbs let loose over the top, delivering an almost freeform lead vocal in typically excellent style.
“Lazy” is a good way to talk about this record, I guess, or rather the feeling it gives off throughout. Not that it’s been constructed in a slapdash or half-hearted fashion; heavens no, it’s another intricately-arranged production, especially the band track which has all kinds of interesting little things going on throughout – a couple of my favourites are the unexpected horn solo, or when the song briefly threatens to veer into leftfield, a sharp and thrilling change into a minor key before the ship rights itself again. No, it’s more that the whole record just feels so natural, as though everyone on it – the musicians, the singers, Levi – were in some kind of comfortable place at the time of recording, taking a quick look at their charts and thinking “yeah, we got this”, giving it a relaxed atmosphere more akin to a jam session with friends than a tightly-scheduled couple of hours in the cramped confines of Hitsville.
Of course, Levi Stubbs’ vocal style, especially on a cut like this which really emphasises his Martha Reeves-style disconnect with anything so prosaic as the actual tune, has a way of conveying that jam-like atmosphere no matter what it is he’s singing, it’s just one of the many things that has attracted listeners to the Tops’ Motown material for the last fifty years and will no doubt continue to do so again, but there’s more to it than that, even. Unlike the A-side, full of dark paranoia and mental anguish, this is a happy love song, and moreover one that looks to the future with a kind of optimism. In short, it’s the story of the narrator trying to move in and pick up the pieces after a failed relationship has left the object of his affections wary and hurt; once again, Levi Stubbs’ heartfelt, pained delivery is what really sells these lyrics, when in lesser hands they might have come across as wheedling or manipulative.
The narrator not being some kind of omnipotent white knight swooping in to save the heartbroken girl earns quite a few points for me; indeed, rather than promising everything will be so much better once she hooks up with him instead, much of the song is him explicitly setting out that he isn’t going to promise a bunch of unrealistic things to take advantage of her broken heart. I can’t promise you you’ll never cry again, ’cause everyone cries sometimes, he states, a matter-of-fact moment on the page turned into a direct missive from the heart on wax; I can’t promise you you’ll never know heartaches again, ’cause everyone’s heart aches sometimes. When the kicker arrives – All I can promise is my love to rely on… just as long as you need me, wonder of wonders, I feel like this could actually work. And even more surprisingly, and I think this has more to do with Levi than any other factor, I think I believe him.
So, it’s almost an antidote (not that one was strictly needed!) to the nervous, crackling energy of “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)”, its open-ended optimism particularly well-suited to the purpose (the implication being that, while the narrator is saying he’s happy to be put aside again the moment she decides she no longer needs him, well, of course, that moment need never actually come). It’s not as brave as the A-side, or as startling, and – hand on heart – it isn’t quite as good as a record, either; but it’s still lovely, and it still works. On the excellently-titled Four Tops Second Album (above), from which Just As Long As You Need Me was taken, this would have made a perfect closing number, for similar reasons; instead, it’s the song the label chose to kick off Side 2 – the weaker of the two sides, for my money, and certainly more unassuming and less hit-laden – and it works there, too, as a kind of statement of intent beyond its own boundaries. The Four Tops will be there as long as we need them. We need them still.
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 Four Tops? Click for more.)
|The Four Tops
“Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)”
|Motown Junkies presents the finest Motown cuts, big hits and hard to find classics.
Listen to all past episodes here.