I’ve been listening to a lot of soul stuff lately, especially 1959-1962 Motown. It’s not as timeless as the mid-60s Motown–plenty of it sounds old–but it’s still chocked full of good tunes. Some take a while to grow on me and some are more immediate.
One that stopped me in my tracks on my first listen was “Don’t Leave Me” Henry Lumpkin. This 1962 track was released as a B-side of his “What is a Man (Without a Woman)” single after originally being a B-side for Marv Johnson in 1959.
Lumpkin cries “Don’t leave me/ Come on back” repeatedly with such anguish that it’s immediately believable that his woman–and what good is he without her–has left him. There are other lyrics in the song, the verses, but the song is so centered around that repeated line that it might as well have those repeat for two minutes.
In a way, I think of it as the anguished equivalent of Sam Cooke’s unceasingly suave first hit, “You Send Me” which just repeats the title line for most of length of the song. They’re both centered around one line and succeed in the emotion and style that is captured in that line–Lumpkin’s hurt and anguish and Cooke’s suaveness and love.
I have been hearing a lot of one particular feeling or emotion in a lot of indie songs these days: yearning. That’s the currency of the day and I–and it seems plenty of other people–are buying it. While “You Send Me” stands as a counterexample, I think a lot of the ’60s soul songs I like trade in anguish. One of my favorite all-time songs The Tracks of My Tears” is another example where the singer puts across pure anguish. What still gets me about it is that Smokey Robinson’s voice is a pure cry, a wail. It’s anguish in a way that only Smokey could do; Lumpkin twists his voice into anguish in a way that all his.
Also, let’s be honest, one of the best Motown singles of all time is “Bernadette” and that’s all anguish.