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Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home) - Marvin Gaye

Another song where I'm going for the original rather than the more famous hit version. But this time the original is definitely better.

One day I will compile a list of the greatest "B" sides of all time. This will be definitive as they would be selected from a finite amount, because, in these digital times, the old fashioned 7 inch 45 rpm single with an "A" side and a "B" side is now extinct. I'm guessing that "Wherever I Lay My Hat" would be up there in the top twenty.

After Holland Dozier Holland, Motown's most successful and prolific songwriting team was Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. Yesterday (see last post) highlighted their first ever hit for the label in 1967, but the actual first song written by the pair was recorded by Gaye five years earlier for his album "That Stubborn Kind of Fellow" with Gaye getting a writing credit too. That song was "Wherever I lay my Hat (That's My Home)".

The follow-up to Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (see last post was the laid back "Too Busy Thinking 'Bout My Baby", also a Whitfield Strong number, and to round things off they stuck "Wherever I lay my Hat" on the back. A young nipper from Luton named Paul Young heard it and remembered it 15 years later when he was one song short for his debut album "No Parlez". It may have been an afterthought, but it was the making of him, released as a single and reaching number one in the UK in July 1983, his first hit.

At first it seems to be a tough call as to which version is best, but the more you listen t both versions, the more obvious it becomes that Gaye wins hands down. Young is a man who is romanticising his exploitation of women, wringing his hands in regret as he beds them and leaves them, as if, by putting a sad, even tragic slant on his taking of pleasure, he somehow justifies it. After a few plays, the passion of Young's vocal becomes hollow and hypocritical. And not just in the light of modern sensibilities: it was always thus.

Gaye, on the other hand, is true and real. Even though the tempo is jaunty, his tone is debonair yet sensitive, and he's just a guy who's honest, telling it how it is, understanding the women without Young's hypocrisy. And of course, that's part of what makes him attractive.

Gaye doesn't need to slow the song down to express a romantic intensity that isn't there. He also interprets the words perfectly, investing just the right amount of "sympathetiquecality" to make his Lothario persona true to life. He neither overdoes it, nor undercooks it, it's perfect. And that's what makes him a great singer.


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