Velvelettes - He Was Really Sayin' Somethin' (and some books...)
Once again, The Velvelettes!
And so begins the week.... Anyway, the weekend was cool, my cheeks are once again approaching their natural rosy glow, thanks to lots of fresh air, rest and reading like a man possessed. In the time I’ve been out of work recuperating I’ve consumed something like 2000 pages of various and sundry music biography and history, in the process absorbing more information on Sam Cooke and the Beatles than I’ll ever need (ever). Peter Guralnick’s Sam Cooke bio, ‘Dream Boogie’ was a Christmas gift from my lovely wife, and a book that I was really anticipating reading (so much so that I held on to it for more than a month knowing that it’s hugeness would carry me through a decent portion of my recovery) As much as I respect Guralnick – his ‘Sweet Soul Music’ is one of the truly great music books ever written – I felt that ‘Dream Boogie’ could have been truncated by a few hundred pages (at least) and not suffered much at all. The book is comprehensive, but to an unnecessary degree, to the point where at least I felt that there was too much focus on the minutiae of Cooke’s daily life, and not nearly enough on his music. That said, it was still better than about 80% of what passes for biography – musical or otherwise – on the market today. I would recommend it, but only if you have a lot of free time, and patience in reserve. I also read Bob Spitz’ immense (800+ pages) biography of the Beatles. Covering their lives up to the time that the band broke up, the book is engrossing and well written. I must confess that in my early teens (years after the Beatles had dissolved) I became a serious Beatles nut, an affliction that never really left me completely. The depth of the research in ‘The Beatles’ may be too much for a someone with a more casual interest in the group, and I wouldn’t suggest approaching a book like this unless you are already familiar with the music. I’m currently about a quarter of the way into Jeff Chang’s ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Generation’, and I’m digging the hell out of it. I you have any interest at all in the roots of Hip Hop, Chang is a hell of a writer and really manages to grasp the history on macro and micro levels. So…enough of the book report. Today’s selection marks the return to the Funky16Corners blog of the mighty Velvelettes. I’ve gone into detail in this space before about how despite my devotion to soul music, my appreciation of Motown and it’s associated labels came rather late in the game, for a variety of reasons (some better than others). My appreciation of the Velvelettes specifically, built in fits and starts over the years, from my initial discovery of the group on a Motown rarities comp in the 80’s, through my chance acquisition of their ‘Lonely Lonely Girl Am I’, which instantly became one of my all time fave 45s’ I first heard ‘He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’’ as a cover version by Bananarama (oh, how it pains me to even type that name…) back in the 80’s heyday of MTV. I think at the time that I knew the tune was a cover, but I can’t say that I had any idea who did the original version. That information came to me a few years later, via a mix tape made by one of my more soul connected, Mod-associated chums. In the years since then, as I picked up on more of the Velvelettes material, I was progressively more impressed by their high quality, and at the same time perplexed that they weren’t a “bigger” group in the Motown stable (and soul music overall). The Velvelettes had the benefit of an outstanding lead singer in Carolyn “Cal” Gill, as well as being mentored – and provided material – by the mighty Norman Whitfield. Between 1963 and 1966 they hit the R&B and Pop charts a number of times, even hitting R&B #1 with the storming ‘Needle In A Haystack’. ‘He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’ made it to R&B #21 and Pop #64 in early 1965, and rates with the groups best 45s. One of the things I really dig about the Velvelettes is that their records are among the most sophisticated sides created during Motown in the mid-60’s, but they also manage to keep a foot in earlier “girl group” sounds as well. The backing vocals, which feel “buried” on other groups records, maintain a greater level of prominence on Velvelettes records. It also helps that the vast majority of the best sides were written or co-written by Whitfield. Opening with a ringing piano, which is soon offset by a beefy horn section, the vocals come in as the rhythm section builds the beat in the background. The combination of sharp rhythm guitar, bass and drums makes the tune a solid dancer, and the call and response between Gill and the rest of the group is infectious. The whole thing wraps up in just two and a half minutes, leaving you wanting more.
The tune was also covered by the Marvelettes a few years later. Though none of the Velvelettes 45s are particularly expensive, I would recommend picking up the currently available greatest hits, so you can get the whole picture in one convenient package.