Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November 15: Brenda Holloway, "Every Little Bit Hurts"

Artist: Brenda Holloway
Song: "Every Little Bit Hurts"
Album: Every Little Bit Hurts
Year: 1964

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Regardless of the specific record label or the genre or even the era during which they existed, there is always some artist or song that seems to stand in contrast to what that specific style built their upon.  Whether it is a heavier or faster-paced band recording a ballad, or a label signing and releasing music from a group that sounds unlike anything else in their catalog, few can argue that it is often these anomalies which yield the most memorable and historically significant moments in history.  This can certainly be seen when one looks at this history of Motown Records, as they were certainly best known for their upbeat, enthralling numbers, and yet it was one of their more reserved and soulful artists that showed the other side of the label.  Bringing an almost gospel influence, along with one of the strongest voices in all of music history, few artists can compare to the sound and presence of Brenda Holloway.  Though she was recording what was without question a non-traditional sound for Motown Records at the time, the allure and impact of her mid-1960's singles are undeniable, and to this day, few songs from the era have endured as perfectly as these songs.  There are a number of brilliant singes which one can point to as her strongest, but it is hard to argue the lasting impact and overall musical perfection one can hear all across Brenda Holloway's unforgettable 1964 single, "Every Little Bit Hurts."

From the very moment that "Every Little Bit Hurts" begins, it is clear that this will not be a "standard" Motown song, as the pace and overall feel are a far cry from the sound for which the label was already known.  However, there is a purity and power within the music that cannot be overlooked, and in many ways it is this reality which is the true essence of the "Motown sound."  The rhythm of "Every Little Bit Hurts" is rather odd in a number of ways, as it has a pace and a sway which many equate to an almost funeral-eqsue sound, and this fits perfectly with the overall sentiment of the song.  This rather unique march is brilliantly complimented by the equally paced piano playing, and it is the interplay between these two sounds which give "Every Little Bit Hurts" a rather somber tone.  Yet it is the way that the small string section manages to fill out the remainder of the musical space which enables the track to become so engaging and powerful, and there is no question that along with being a classic of the "Motown era," "Every Little Bit Hurts" also represents one of the finest soul recordings in all of music history.  It is also the orchestration found here which shows the wide range and unparalleled talents of the legendary Funk Brothers, as they are able to inject just as much emotion and power into this slower arrangement as one can find on any of their other iconic arrangements.

Working in perfect harmony with the fantastic orchestration behind her, there is no arguing that Brenda Holloway's vocal performance on "Every Little Bit Hurts" is not only the finest in her own catalog, but certainly one of the greatest in the entire history of recorded music.  Moreso than nearly any other artist from any genre, her singing seems almost effortless, and this is absolutely stunning when one hears the level of power and emotion that comes through on every word.  All across the track, Holloway often sounds as if she is on the edge of tears, and it is the pain and torture within her voice that quickly becomes one of the most engaging aspects of the entire song.  Furthermore, while other Motown artists where singing of the frustration of love, there is a unique brand of heartbreak that one can hear here, and there is no question that "Every Little Bit Hurts" stands as one of the most direct and universally understood songs to ever approach this subject.  The song is also rather unique in comparison to much of the rest of the Motown catalog in that it stands as one of the labels' few "big hits" that was not written by their legendary "Holland-Dozier-Holland"team.  Though this track was composed by Ed Cobb, it is the way that Brenda Holloway's voice soars to unmatched heights which makes it a perfect fit, and few singers from any era or style have even come close to such a performance.

While there is no question that the 1964 version of "Every Little Bit Hurts" is the definitive take, it was actually the second time that Holloway had recorded the song.  In fact, she had recorded the song for another label a few years previously, and was very reluctant to do the song again for Motown Records.  However, almost instantly upon its release, this new version of "Every Little Bit Hurts" became a top twenty hit, and it would become one of Holloway's best known songs, as well as one of the most treasured of the entire decade.  Strangely enough, "Every Little Bit Hurts" managed to have a musical reach that few other songs in history have attained, as there are cover versions that can be found from a massively wide range of other artists throughout the decades.  Since its initial release, artists ranging from George Clinton to The Clash to The Small Faces to Alicia Keys have all taken time to record their own version, and this diversity in tributes is a testament to what a unique song "Every Little Bit Hurts" is in the historical sense.  Yet while these later takes are certainly enjoyable and interesting in their own right, there is no question that it is the Motown Records version by Brenda Holloway which stands far above the rest, and the sheer perfection, as well as the rather unique contrast it presented to the rest of the labels' work is what makes her 1964 release of "Every Little Bit Hurts" such an unforgettable moment in music history.

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