Jr. Walker and the All Stars – “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You),” Pop #18, R&B #3
By Joel Francis
Because he owned both the label and its publishing, it’s no surprise that Berry Gordy frequently had other label artists cut versions of earlier Motown hits. While there are several notable exceptions, for the most part these covers are either curiosities or album filler.
Jr. Walker, however, broke out of the mold with his reading of Marvin Gaye’s 1964, Top 5 hit “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” After an extended saxophone intro, Walker puts down his horn. He has clearly overcome the microphone shyness that plagued him during the recording of his breakthrough hit “Shotgun.” Walking in Gaye’s shoes is no small feat, but Walker’s voice credibly handles the soulful, demanding melody.
While Gaye’s version was slick, joyous anthem, Walker’s is a little seedier – and all the better for it. Producer Harvey Fuqua, who signed Walker and changed his band name from the “Rhythm Rockers” to the “All Stars” in 1961, gave the song a faux-live feel that makes it sound like it was captured in a Southern roadhouse. The purposefully ragged backing vocals are more like enthusiastic audience intrusions. Close your eyes and you can smell alcohol and cigarette smoke while listening.
Others have covered this number since Gaye and Walker, of course, but a moratorium should have been placed after this interpretation. Finally, it should be noted that the year after he recorded “How Sweet It Is,” Walker memorably stole “Come See About Me” from the Supremes – no small feat – with his 1967 cover.