(I'm a ) Roadrunner - Junior Walker and the All Stars
One of the great strengths of Motown in the sixties was the way they developed artists on all levels: there were the big stars such as the Supremes, the Four Tops the Miracles and the Temptations, the next level down - Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder who later became massive, and then there were lower levels than that, artists that had their own sound within the Motown sound, who made up the support bands in the travelling Motown review show. A good example of this was Junior Walker and the All Stars, unique in the sixties as Motown's only genuine band, a four piece who played their own instruments led by saxophonist Junior, sometimes augmented by members of the Funk Brothers. Walker's band had a much rawer sound than much Tamla sixties output, in part due to Walker's rasping but soulful vocals and very funky tenor sax, but also because they were lower down the pecking order at the Corporation and they didn't have first chance at the the silkier smoother songs that went to the label leaders and were the big hits. When in 1965 the sweaty club sound of "Shotgun" became their first hit, reaching number 4 on the US chart, the mould was cast and Walker and Co spent the next decade working with one Motown production team after another and having a gross of minor US hits, punctuated at a rate of about one in five with a really big one. This brought good income for the label and along with the other "B" artists, kept the Motown profile alive and kicking in the charts.
The work that Holland-Dozier-Holland produced with Motown's lesser lights is some of their best. As a statement of feckless libidinous irresponsibility it's hard to beat, starting with the exuberant opening verse, the toothbrush hailed as his flag of freedom
"Money, who needs it let me live a life free and easy put a toothbrush in my hand and let me be a travelling man 'cause I'm a roadrunner, baby...."
And if you're wondering how he gets away with it, just listen to the great groove, the swaggering assuredness of his vocal and the irresistible sexiness of his soaring sax:
"if you love me it's your own risk.... ....and I live the life I love and I'm gonna love the life I live baby I'm a roadrunner baby....."