Frederick Long’s nickname “Shorty” was ironic considering his surname, but the diminutive pianist, songwriter and vocalist was indeed a mere 5’1″. Yet Shorty was Long on talent. Harvey Fuqua brought Long to Motown with him from Tri-Phi, and Long was eventually selected by Berry Gordy to inaugurate the new Soul label, designed to showcase the funkier side of the Sound of Young America. That single arrived in 1964, but Gordy didn’t release a Long solo album until 1968, just one year before the artist died at the age of 29 in a boating accident. Here Comes…Shorty Long: The Complete Motown Stereo Masters, the latest release in Ace Records’ ongoing series of vintage Motown platters, serves up Long’s two solo albums (1968’s Here Comes The Judge and 1969’s The Prime of Shorty Long) plus two bonus tracks on one CD (Kent/Ace CDTOP 369) and offers ample evidence of a singular, if short-lived, talent. If you like your Motown off the beaten path, you’re in the right place.
The anthology doesn’t include every track recorded at Motown by Shorty, but rather his complete stereo masters as issued on the Soul imprint. That means you’ll find two full LPs here, plus the stereo debut of a track first unearthed in 2010 in mono, and a new stereo mix of one single side. Shorty is best known for the percolating “Function at the Junction.” That irresistible invitation to the dance (co-written with Eddie Holland and produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier) appeared as a single in 1966 before finding a home on the Here Comes the Judge LP. “Don’t Mess with My Weekend” continues the party-time groove, as does “Night Fo’ Last,” on which the H-D-H team tried to recapture the “Function” magic. It’s heard here in both instrumental and vocal renditions.
Meet you for that function after the jump!
What’s most fascinating is the diversity of styles employed by Long over just a handful of recordings. Over twelve tracks produced by William “Mickey” Stevenson, Frank Wilson and Shorty himself, Here Comes the Judge shows off the range of Shorty Long as performer, songwriter and producer. The music isn’t as jokey as the cover, with Shorty looking pompous in a wig, exiting a courthouse – or perhaps, inviting listeners in! The song “Here Comes the Judge” was inspired by Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham’s Laugh-In routine, and directly opposed Markham’s own song based on his sketch. (Shorty prevailed, hitting No. 8 on the Hot 100 vs. Markham’s No. 19!) There are straight instrumentals as well as instrumentals punctuated by spoken word, such as “Ain’t No Justice” in which Shorty interjects various lamentations over a smoking, prominent piano riff. Long co-wrote with Mickey Stevenson and introduced “Devil with a Blue Dress,” later popularized by a hyper-charged Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. The hard-swinging, bluesy rendition (first issued as a single in 1964) hardly sounds like “Motown” with its leering vocal and greasy track.
As with “Here Comes the Judge,” Long frequently indulged his sense of humor. His cover of The Jay Hawks’ “Stranded in the Jungle” has a comical Coasters vibe to it, and two distinct musical sections. On “Here Comes Fat Albert,” Long warns, “”Better hide all of your candy/And put your cookies away/I heard it through the grapevine/That Albert played hooky from school today!” The 1968 song predates the animated incarnation of Bill Cosby’s rotund alter ego, but the Cosby character first appeared on a comedy routine from 1967.
On the other end of the spectrum is “Another Hurt Like This,” which would have made an ideal candidate for single release. Boasting a strong string arrangement, this pretty but soulful ballad produced and written by Long is almost a throwback, with its cocktail piano part and spoken rap section. But its lyrics are, no surprise, idiosyncratic: “Baby I lose a pound a day/And I lose it all in tears/Since you been gone away/My life is full of doubts and fears!” Co-written by Shorty and Ronald Dunbar, later of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s Invictus label, “Sing What You Wanna” has a more straightforward Motor City vibe.
Reissue producers Keith Hughes and Tony Rounce have added a couple of bonus tracks including the song with one of the wackiest titles ever to come from Hitsville: “Mobile Lil the Dancing Witch” (“The craziest witch that I know”)! Ace’s set concludes with The Prime of Shorty Long, a posthumously-issued long-player that largely consisted of tracks recorded in the six-month period prior to Long’s passing, though some tracks dated as far back as 1966. (The notes inform us that three more finished Shorty Long tracks remain unissued, and about a dozen more which were never completed by the artist.)
The Prime of Shorty Long is more reliant on covers than its predecessor, among them a suitably groovy “Memories Are Made of This” and brassy “A Whiter Shade of Pale” which lacks the haunting quality of Procol Harum’s original. There are also two famous Dave Bartholomew songs, “I’m Walkin'” and “Blue Monday.” Motown’s redoubtable arranger Paul Riser contributed to a full seven out of the album’s twelve tracks, and productions Clarence Paul and George Gordy were also featured.
“Cross My Heart,” written by David Mattis and Don Robey, is another romantic throwback ballad, while “I Had a Dream” might be the album’s most poignant moment. Composed by Long and Sylvia Moy, the song epitomized the hopes and dreams of Long’s generation, influenced by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but oddly failed to resonate with the record-buying public. Could Long have been pursuing a less unorthodox direction in his later recordings? Commercially-minded tracks like the smoking “I Wish You Were Here” and the sweet “When You Are Available” (co-written by Shorty with Marvin Gaye, Anna Gordy and Elgie Stover, and originally intended for The Elgins) could certainly support that supposition.
Here Comes…Shorty Long proves that Long was, indeed, cut down in the prime of his life. But this 26-track anthology serves as both an introduction to the man and a comprehensive career overview. The copiously-annotated and illustrated booklet lives up to the Ace standard of excellence, as does the sparkling stereo sound. In addition, the disc handily supersedes Universal U.K./Spectrum’s Essential Collection. Taken with his singles previously released on CD as part of The Complete Motown Singles series of box sets, this disc is truly essential to any serious library of Motor City soul.
Here Comes…Shorty Long: The Complete Motown Stereo Masters is in stores now, and can be ordered at the link below!
Shorty Long, Here Comes…Shorty Long: The Complete Motown Stereo Masters (Kent CDTOP 369, 2012)
- Here Comes the Judge
- Night Fo’ Last (Instrumental)
- Function at the Junction
- Don’t Mess with My Weekend
- Ain’t No Justice
- Devil with the Blue Dress
- Night Fo’ Last (Vocal)
- Stranded in the Jungle
- Here Comes Fat Albert
- Sing What You Wanna
- Another Hurt Like This
- People Sure Act Funny
- Mobile Lil the Dancing Witch
- Chantilly Lace
- I Had a Dream
- A Whiter Shade of Pale
- Memories Are Made of This
- I’m Walkin’
- Cross My Heart
- Lillie of the Valley
- Blue Monday
- Baby Come Home to Me
- I Wish You Were here
- When You Are Available
- Give Me Some Air
- The Deacon Work
Tracks 1-12 from Here Comes the Judge, Soul LP SS 709, 1968
Track 13 previously unreleased stereo mix of track first issued on A Cellarful of Motown Vol. 4 , Motown CD 882 4009, 2010
Track 14 previously unissued stereo alternate version of track first issued on Soul single 35031, 1967
Tracks 15-26 from The Prime of Shorty Long, Soul LP SS 719, 1969