In my previous blogging history, when it came to specific albums I really didn’t.. well, talk about them. Most of the music that I love did in fact come in the form of Singles… and with the Jazz LP here and there, most people write off any LP from what it seems before 1970 unless it’s like Abbey Road or Pet Sounds.
So when I thought about “which Long Player do I frequently return to” out of comfort, familiarity and fun there’s always one, by my favorite Girl Group (yes girl group albums that weren’t their greatest hits could actually be listenable).
From November 1966, Martha & The Vandellas Watchout! (Gordy 920).
The LP came out of the need to cash in on “I’m Ready For Love” the Vandellas first real top 10 hit since “Nowhere to Run.” It’s an odd mixture of studio tracks, bombs and possible singles that features the odd hybrid of having the current Vandellas (Rosalyn and Betty) present on most tracks alongside The Andantes, Motown’s in-house background group (Think The Cookies behind Brill Build Classics, The Blossoms on almost everything wall of sound associated) Well, I can make the argument, that, after Florence Ballard, Rosalyn Ashford was the most distinctive female background vocalist in Motown’s stable… so you notice her in contrast to the angelic, but sometimes bland padding out by the Andantes.
It’s also an odd mixture of songs. Technically the LP is anchored by 2 hits (in my opinion in really bad places, Motown had a bad habit of clustering big hits close together on LPs, giving the cursory feeling that each LP was 2-4 hits, an interesting B side, and 7 tracks of filler), but The version of “Jimmymack” is a decidedly more swing tempo 1966 re-record, not the June, 1964 version that would be a top 10 hit in the spring of 1967. Also there is the storming b-side “One Way Out” which, according to Motown fable, was originally a Supremes track. Holland Dozier Holland switched ideas, giving The Supremes “Going Down For the 3rd Time” (hence Diana Ross’s tougher “Reeves-like” performance) and giving the Vandellas “One Way Out” (one of the first examples of Reeves possibly being told to sing like Diana, and the arrangement is not at all out of place with a number of Supremes fillers in the “I Hear A Symphony” mold).
But the real bonus of the LP is the grab bag feel. It’s not boring since you have a number of producers throwing in, especially two awesome Smokey Robinson Numbers “Keep It Up” and “No More Tearstained Make-up.”
“Keep it Up” is the noir thriller of the two, you, as the listener wondering what Martha actually has planned if her man doesn’t treat her right. Cut off his balls? Murder? it’s up to you as the listener to decide
“No More Tearstained Makeup” is a brilliant proto-femme power pop song (in the same budding stages as “Don’t Make Me Over” and “You Don’t Own Me”), about empowering yourself by cutting of the tears, no longer looking at “running mascara” and how you can carry on and be strong, even at the end of a devastating break up. Apparently it was intended as a single… but languishes as a LP shadow classic to this day.
The rest of the tracks are enjoyable, including the complex for the sake of being complex and nothing else bomb single “What Am I Gonna Do Without Your Love” from June, 1966. The more so or less filler is uplifting like the Northern Soul fave “I’ll Follow You” and then Tender “Tell Me I’ll Never Be Alone” and the haunting slightly Folk orientated b-side “He Doesn’t Love Her Anymore” but… the one demerit that you can level at the LP is that… since the Spellbound:lost & found set debuted in 2005, you can see there was a wealth of also great material that got passed by for what admittedly can be weak tracks (I’m looking at you “Let This Day Be” and the maudlin cover of Kim Weston’s “Go Ahead and Laugh”).
Still for its minor faults, Motown’s great girl group, at their mature, 25 year old young woman best, compared to The Supremes Sing Holland Dozier Holland and The Marvelettes (1967) This is “Girl Group Grown up” done at it’s finest… give it a listen….