BRENDA HOLLOWAY: EVERY LITTLE BIT HURTS (1964)
1) I've Been Good To You; 2) Sad Song; 3) Every Little Bit Hurts; 4) Too Proud To Cry; 5) Who's Loving You; 6) Land Of A Thousand Boys; 7) Suddenly; 8) Embraceable You; 9) Unchained Melody; 10) A Favor For A Girl (With A Love Sick Heart); 11) (You Can) Depend On Me; 12) Can I.
As much as this «torch ballad» style is generally not my cup of musical tea at all, I cannot deny that ʽEvery Little Bit Hurtsʼ is a great song, and that even with all these other versions around, nobody has done it more justice than its original performance. This Motown recording from 1964 was actually her second recorded version — the original was produced two years earlier for Del-Fi Records — but apparently the people at Motown, having just signed their first West Coast artist, knew what they were doing, and made Brenda re-do the tune with higher production values and, naturally, with a stronger promotion agenda.
Her own gift is in understanding that the song works primarily as an «aria», and depends crucially on mood interchange — the way it bounces back and forth from tragic weeping to determined screaming, breaking down, picking up, breaking down again, with unbelievably authentic dynamic tension: the bridge section, with its punchy, almost threatening "come back to me, darling you'll see..." beginning and then smoothly, fluently morphing into pleading — "I can give you all the things that you wanted before" still starting out determined and proud, but descending into submission and pleading tenderness by the time it's over. No wonder that Steve Winwood and a host of other performers were so enthralled: this is one hell of a vocal delivery, a three-minute spectacle of emotional bliss the likes of which are pretty dang hard to find in the rest of Motown's catalog — certainly not off the top of my head.
The downside of this, however, becomes obvious as we listen to the rest of Brenda's debut LP for the label — and realize that, in a more-than-stupid attempt to capitalize on the brilliance of the title track, Motown made her record eleven more songs that all sound the same. Okay, ten: ʽA Favor For A Girl (With A Love Sick Heart)ʼ is taken at a sprightlier tempo and groomed to sound a little more sly, sexy, and seductive, much in line with the leading brand of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles' style (although, ironically, although Smokey did contribute some songs for this album, ʽA Favor For A Girlʼ is credited to producer Clarence Paul instead).
Everything else, though, shares the same tempo, the same tragic-love mood, and even more or less the same basic chord progression as ʽEvery Little Bit Hurtsʼ. Everything! Ten completely interchangeable songs that all try to be ʽEvery Little Bit Hurtsʼ — and all fail, because none of these writers, intentionally striving to write something exactly like Ed Cobb's masterpiece, arrive at matching the original's perfect flow. The only good thing about them all is that Ms. Holloway honestly tries her best to make them come alive — and she did have one of Motown's best female voices: deeper and more «mature» than the average chirp of their teenage starlets (not that Brenda wasn't in her teens herself, but she sounded far more grown-up than anybody), capable of all sorts of modulation, combining «clean» tenderness with «raspy» excitement or irony within the same verse or chorus like a perfect natural.
The songs, alas, have about as much interesting going on about them here as does your average Celine Dion record — the only difference being that the generic Motown sound is always preferable to the generic Celine Dion Columbia sound — but that is not really Brenda's fault: in 1964, she was nobody's top priority, and Motown's resident songwriters simply fed her with scraps and leftovers (besides, just how many great LPs did Motown artists record anyway in 1964, when the LP was a strictly hardcore-fan-oriented artefact?).
Basically, it all boils down to this: if you really happen to madly fall in love with the voice and the personality behind the voice, do track this album down (as far as I know, it was never issued on CD by itself, but all the songs have been included on the 2-CD Motown Anthology). If you value the song much more than the voice, though, and especially if you think the Spencer Davis Group with Stevie Winwood is better or something like that, you will be perfectly fine just owning the track on any reasonable sampler of Motown's greatness. As the future would show, there would be much more (well, not much, but maybe a little more — as much as the powers-that-be would mercifully allocate) to Brenda Holloway than ʽEvery Little Bit Hurtsʼ, but if you were to judge the artist on the strength of this one album, «fluke» and «one-hit wonder» would be the most appropriate associations.