Back Street - R Dean Taylor
One of the few white songwriters on the Motown staff, R Dean Taylor specialised in social comment stories and simple, personal, low-life dramas which were often so off beat that they weren't considered suitable for the major stars of the label and he was often allowed to record them himself. His style was more in vogue towards the end of the sixties as social awareness began appearing in the label's repertoire in the work of artists like Marvin Gaye and the Temptations in particular and he was part of the team that penned the Supremes wonderful later hits "Love Child" and "I'm living in Shame" which both bare the mark of his narrative style.
From the great guitar and piano intro"Back Street" is just terrific, high paced with great words and a great operatic if tacky story, the phrases hitting you like short, hard punches, this is like the tough guy writing of James M Cain or Dashiell Hammett as the paperback tragedy unfolds
"...he left her to cradle the shame and the blame
- a child with no name...."
"...running scared all alone
she met all the wrong kind
the ghettos poisoned her young mind...."
"eighteen years old
and the room gotten cold...."
"...she had to fight to survive
give up her pride to keep her baby alive
so she sold her love to those that would call
up the stairs, down the hall..."
Then comes the extraordinary upping of the emotions from the moment of:
"A knock in the night
no-one in sight
there at my feet in the snow cold and deep cried a small baby son
tears stained the note that she left on my door
love please make him yours..."
as the Motown ensemble perform out of their skin, and the strings (including a cello!) pull at your heart strings and Taylor's lavish arrangement crescendos with a harp (what the hell are they doing shipping in a harp just for this moment it must have been there for someone's else's song later in the day and he just HAD to use it?). And that's not to mention the great girl backing vocals.
And his poignant last despairing cry:
"She was scared and alone!"
It's crazy, tragic, moving, totally toe tappingly pacey, cliched schlock. But it works and I love it. Hot damn, I've just got to play that again!
As the girls sing and the strings fade into the night:
"Back street livin' ain't easy."