Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May 4: The Countours, "Do You Love Me"

Artist: The Contours
Song: Do You Love Me?
Album: "Do You Love Me?" (single)
Year: 1962

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Throughout the history of recorded music, there are few phenomena that are as odd as the case of the timeless song created by a group which most cannot recall.  While the song itself has earned "iconic" status, for a wide range of reasons, the group responsible for the hit has somehow fallen by the wayside.  Whether it was due to another, more well known group making a cover of the song or the group being a "one hit wonder," these songs occupy their own, special place in music history.  Standing today as both a song and a group that are surrounded by some of the most unique stories ever, in many ways, there was perhaps no more unlikely a hit group than The Countours.  Most well know for performing a song that was originally intended for another group, and then being slightly overshadowed when The Tremeloes covered this same song (making it a number one hit), nearly everyone in the world knows their hit song, yet very few know that they are the group responsible for this classic tune.  In reality, in 1962, Motown Records boss, Berry Gordy, had written what he "knew" would be a massive hit, and went to find The Temptations to record the song, as he had written it for them to perform.  However, after much searching, Gordy discovered that The Temptations had left Motown Records for a local gospel music showcase, and since Gordy wanted the song recorded as soon as possible, he found The Countours in the studio and had them record the tune.  This strange order of events led to The Contours recording one of the most iconic songs in history, as there is never any mistaking their 1962 hit single, "Do You Love Me."

While "Do You Love Me" has found its place in music history, if one looks at the bigger picture, it is actually a rather odd hit for Motown Records.  Though it is brilliantly orchestrated and performed, the fact of the matter is, "Do You Love Me" is very much the most "un-Motown" Motown song ever recorded.  The song lacks the "studio polish" and smooth, grooving nature that defined Motown Records, and the more ruckus, rock and roll feel makes it a true anomaly of the Motown catalog.  Furthermore, the song throws a curve at the onset, as the slow, melodic guitar and sad vocal that opens the song seems to be preparing the listener for a love ballad that never happens.  As soon as the song drops in, it is quickly clear why the song became such a hit, as it is one of the greatest and most irresistible dance songs in history.  Even today, the moment the opening notes hit, the energy and excitement of the song still builds just as quickly, and the song remains just as powerful and enjoyable as it was nearly fifty years ago.  From the perfectly played backbeat of drummer Benny Benjamin and the bass from the great James Jameson, one quickly hears why this duo stands today as the greatest rhythm section in music history.  The way in which they are able to inject a groove into what appears to be an off-kilter rock tune serves as a testament to their superior ability as musicians.  Though there is piano from Joe Hunter as well as a number of other instruments from various Funk Brothers on the track, everything aside from the rhythm section almost gets buried behind the amazing vocal work that dominates the entire song.

Much like the orchestration of the song, the vocals on "Do You Love Me" are also quite a far cry from what had become the "norm" from Motown Records.  Lacking the clean, almost sophisticated sound that can be heard in nearly every hit from the label, the lead vocals here are filled with emotion, yet completely unrestrained.  In truth, the lead vocals on "Do You Love Me" are actually split between Billy Gordon and Billy Hoggs, and the way in which the duo are able to straddle the line between singing and screaming truly set the standard for countless acts that followed across every musical genre.  Perhaps the only clear link to the "classic" Motown sound comes in the harmonies which build tension leading into the songs' chorus.  It is in these moments that one can hear where The Temptations would have made the song their own, but one must similarly question what the overall sound would have been like in the hands of this far more structured and "classic" Motown group.  It is within the music and lyrics of "Do You Love Me" that one can also clearly see the fact that Berry Gordy truly "knew" how to make a hit song, as the lyrics here are nothing short of perfect.  Grabbing a handful of themes that spoke directly to his target audience, the idea behind the song is almost a bit "silly," and yet somehow, the song simply "works."  Based around the theme of a scorned lover asking his partner if she feels differently "now that I can dance," the song resonates across the generations, and yet will always be most closely linked with the mood of the era during which it was recorded.

While The Contours do a phenomenal job alongside The Funk Brothers on "Do You Love Me," the fact of the matter is, for many years, their version of the song became secondary, when in 1963, the U.K. group, The Tremeloes took the song to the top of the charts.  However, the original version eventually retook the spotlight, though for some strange reason, the song is often attributed to none other than The Beatles.  Unquestionably one of the most unique recordings to ever come out of Hitsville, USA, "Do You Love Me" can be seen as a transitional song in the history of music, as it was very much one of the key "bridge songs" between the R&B and rock and roll sounds.  With The Funk Brothers in top form, they once again make their case as the most talented band in history, and it is on songs like this that the true scope of their musical talents become clear.  Creating an amazing energy between the vocals and the music, the song is powerful in a manner unlike any other recording in history, and the way in which the two vocalists walk the line between singing and scream is a true musical delight.  Packed with unrestrained emotion at every turn, The Contours manage to find a way to blend the harmonies that defined the "Motown sound" with the "more modern," emerging rock and roll style, and it is one of the reasons why "Do You Love Me" occupies such a special place in the overall history of music.  Perfect musical execution, combined with a top notch vocal performance, all over some of the most simple, yet brilliantly penned lyrics in history made anything less than success impossible for The Contours and their legendary 1962 hit single, "Do You Love Me?"

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