Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Miracles - Come 'Round Here I'm The One You Need (1966/ No. 13/ 11 weeks/ Motown)


This song is an interesting case study in the merits of casting against type. When you think of Smokey Robinson you imagine the sound of of a honeyed voice - an instrument of tremendous power that sometimes conveys great pain, its true - but always with the essential lightness of an equitable temperament. In this single though, he often sounds ragged, squirming in anguish, nakedly pleading, fed up with the situation that he finds himself in. Perhaps its because this one was written by Lamont-Dozier-Holland, but this sounds like the sort of song which you'd expect to have been be offered to The Four Tops; a powerhouse lead vocal, with great blocks of forceful harmonies behind it, a la 'Reach Out I'll Be There'.

The Funk Brothers' instrumentation is rather martial, flutes and a big trebley drum. Underneath this, very tense strings stab, and a piano line pokes the listener's ears, creating a mood of panic. The vocals start with a wordless cry;


It is a song sung by someone whose been in unrequited love for a very long time, and knows very well the mistakes that the other will keep on making;

Now YOU SAY! - every time you neeeed some affection
The one you love! goes in another direction...
You just sit-there! in a daaayze reminiscin'
'cause you KNOW! some other lips he's been kissin'

Note how the rising inflection in the middle of each line denotes a criticism of the actions of the woman who he's singing to. You get the impression that what he's saying is demonstrably true, but that he's not doing a very good job of providing consoling wisdom, with a querulousness and sense of entitlement continually breaking though. He's been in this position before, and can no longer mask his impatience with her;

Now when you need the love he's never SHOWN ya - COME ROUND HERE!
And when you need some lovin' arms to hold ya - COME ROUND HERE!

When he sings of need a loving, redemptive, tone is momentarily there, but then the instruction to come round gets spoken more as a command than a suggestion. This guy's not doing it very well. Behind this, remarkably loudly, The Miracles shout out what's really going on inside him when he's speaking, excitable, ecstatic;


The desperation is naked in the chorus. Smokey's voice lightens up here. Now he's certain of what he's saying, The Miracles' resonant backing provides a counterpoint by giving voice to the singer's id;

Now I - may not be - the one you waant...
Oh But I knooow I'm the one you neeeed!
Saaiid III maaay not be the one you waant...
Ooh but I knooow I'm the one you neeeed...

Another two verses and choruses of this follow, but pass by in superquick time - just two and a half minutes - which replicates the way that life tends to get experientially weird at points of high and long-suppressed emotion. The crucial shift is in the alternating tone of Robinson's voice - between the compassionate, but dangerously excited, lightness when he tells the woman about her unsatisfactory boyfriends ("Your life stands still - the minute he goes/ You count the hours - just hopin' he shows ... While you're loongin'! - for his embrace/You're all alone there! - with tears on your face") and delirious, unfortunately aggressive, conviction in positing himself as the solution ("Girl can't you see? while you're longing for his touch/ That I'M THE ONE! who loves you so much!")

It's an oddly balanced song, in that although its ultimately about male hubris, he has also been paying close attention to her. He fully understands what she does, if not, perhaps, who she is.

I do wonder whether the strategy deployed by the singer of 'Come Round Here' would ever be effective with any women. I suppose that you could say that he's displaying some mastery, but probably the best time to have done that was several unsatisfactory boyfriends ago, possibly years before by this stage. Getting cross with her now is unlikely to make things any better between them.

In my mind, I imagine a new coda hidden in the song, where the inner Miracles voice in Smokey's head present him with a moment of illumination in the fade-out - "OOOH-HOOO! SHE'LL ALWAYS DO THIS TO YOU! OOOH-HOOO! SHE'S NEVER GOING TO CHANGE!" - and he can start to move on.

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