You Lost the Sweetest Boy - Mary Wells




https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TkmnDwzG8I


In the UK, Mary Wells means just one thing: "My guy". This was her only UK hit, in fact it was a top 20 hit in Britain twice, first in 1964, then eight years later in 1972.


In the US, however, Wells was Motown's hottest female asset up until and including "My Guy". From 1960 - 1964, prior to "My Guy", she had no less than 10 Hot 100 entries, including 4 Top 10 hits. And then - almost nothing - just one top 40 chart entry for "Use Your Head", plus a few fairly decent releases that flashed across the lower reaches of the charts like lesser squibs set off after the main firework event.


The reason for this was that she left the Motown label. Mary had been trying to renegotiate her contract with the corporation, a contract signed when she was a naïve 17 year old from a tough poor background with little savvy adult support to advise her, when she became incensed that the profits from "My Guy", her only US Number One, were being used to promote the latest record by the label's new upcoming act, the Supremes. Motown was always run like a bureaucratic business, so in the early years when cashflow was more hand-to-mouth, it was standard practice to spend the income from your latest hit marketing the next breaking disc, regardless of the artist. But Mary would not have been able to help noticing the extra attention that the label's boss, Berry Gordy was giving Diana Ross, and, probably correctly, adjudged that her days as Motown's premier diva were numbered, so she jumped before being sidelined.


Over the years, many people have castigated Gordy for his vindictive treatment of those that left the label before time, but in any other business, banking for example, no-one would be surprised at the kind of vengeful acts he and Motown are alleged to have indulged in: influencing radio stations not to play certain records, suggesting to venues that the offending artists were removed from their roster and limiting "live" tv and radio appearances. (see Barbara Randolph post October 1st on https://www.unclestylus.com/single-post/i-ve-got-a-feeling-barbara-randolph ). If, however, it happened in this instance, then it proved extremely successful in terminating a promising career.


After writing her breakthrough single "Bye Bye Baby" herself (see https://www.unclestylus.com/single-post/2019/03/24/bye-bye-baby-mary-wells ), Mary continued her success with a succession of Berry Gordy and then Smokey Robinson compositions. "You Lost the Sweetest Boy" was the first time she was teamed up with Holland-Dozier-Holland and the result is a real belter, very different from anything else she ever recorded.


As Dave Marsh observes in his near biblical book "The Heart of Rock and Soul":


"Holland-Dozier-Holland records used gospel inflections more proudly and directly than any of the label's other production teams..........It was their records that brought forth the centrality of the fabled Motown tambourine, one of the fundamental Pentecostal instruments. You can hear the contrast between what HDH and the rest of Motown were up to in an especially striking fashion on Mary Wells's "You Lost the Sweetest Boy". There's a profound difference between this surging piano, bass and drums rocker and the sweeter, less jumping tunes Smokey Robinson, gave Wells, the label's biggest female star before Ross.


Holland-Dozier-Holland probably only got the Wells assignment because Smokey's recent discs with Wells had flopped. Robinson reclaimed the job for Mary's next release and, having been pushed, came up with the biggest hit of her career, "My Guy", Motown's first pop Number One."


The story line is urgent and simple. The girl who Mary is singing to had a "sweet" boyfriend, but she couldn't help flirting with all the other boys, even making bets she could get anyone she wanted, with the result that Mary's now stolen him off her.


It's worth noting that the backing vocals are by the original Supremes and Temptations line-ups, plus listen out for the absolutely scorching tenor sax from the immortal Funk Brother Andrew "Mike" Terry.


I like to think that they were all crammed into the studio round the back of the Motown building, Hitsville USA, in downtown Detroit, recording it ensemble in one furious take. Certainly the sound feels as hot and steamy as a high school summer dance, and Mary herself seems so so happy, unaware of the tribulations to come; the lines may be caustic, but her tone is carefree rather than gloating, giving the whole track a wonderful feeling of fun.


The phrasing of words to tune by H-D-H is so exquisite, it's worth singing along all the way through just so you can enjoy it:


"You had the sweetest boy in the world Without a doubt you were the envy of every girl But you're the kind that's never satisfied You want every boy that pass you by But the tables turned 'Cause his words tell you're done Now the hurt's on you Your little scheme backfired, it's true You thought it was fun to make the boys run

And lost the sweetest boy that you had that time The sweetest boy that you had


'Cause now he's hanging around my door More happier than before Now you're in misery 'cause you lost him to me Now the hurt's on you, now the hurt's on you Your little scheme backfired, it's true You made bets, any boy you could get

You lost the sweetest boy that you had that time The sweetest boy that you had


Yes, your loss is my gain 'Cause straight into my arms he came 'Cause you're the kind that's never satisfied

You want every boy that pass you by Now the hurt's on you, now the hurt's on you Your little scheme backfired, it's true Now tears of regret just covered your face

You lost the sweetest boy that you had that time The sweetest boy that you had

You lost the sweetest boy that you had that time The sweetest boy that you had."


Wasn't I right? This is as good as it gets. Holland-Dozier-Holland, and Mary Wells, at their very best.