TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Released as a single (Motown 1142) on Thursday, February 20, 1969.
SONGWRITER: William “Smokey” Robinson.
PRODUCERS: Frank Wilson, Deke Richards.
BACKSTORY: Putting two of Motown’s top groups together in 1968 for an album and a TV special proved to be a masterstroke – and very Hollywood. In fact, that’s where the producers of “I’ll Try Something New,” Frank Wilson and Deke Richards, were based, even before the company relocated from Detroit.
This is a Smokey Robinson composition originally recorded by the Miracles, a modest chart success when released as a single in 1962. Six years later, as Wilson and Richards were assembling material for the Diana Ross & the Supremes/Temptations album project, the song came to mind. “I played Frank some ideas I had. ‘I’ll Try Something New’ was just one of those songs,” explained Richards in liner notes for The Complete Motown Singles Volume 9: 1969. “I mean, we didn’t necessarily go after it as a single. However, Billie Jean [of Motown’s Quality Control] decided it was a strong follow-up to ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.’ You can’t go wrong with a Smokey song.”
Even so, it was a tough act to follow. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” had proved to be a Supremes/Temptations smash, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the opening weeks of 1969 (above it was Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”). Also in January, Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations soared to No. 2 on the album charts (that time, only the Beatles could keep them from the summit). “I’ll Try Something New” couldn’t quite match its predecessor’s peak: the single snuck into the Top 40 of the pop charts, and stalled one slot short of the Top 10 on the R&B listings.
The primary voices on “I’ll Try Something New” belong to Eddie Kendricks and Diana Ross, who recorded their parts in Los Angeles in August 1968. “At the time, it was tough to get them all to work together,” recalled Deke Richards. “On two songs in particular I had Diana and Eddie play off each other. The irony was, the two artists were never in the same room at the same time.”
REMAKES: For a romantic song with one of Smokey Robinson’s most imaginative lyrics, “I’ll Try Something New” has attracted fewer followers than you might expect. (The song is also said to be one of Berry Gordy’s favorites.) At Motown, there were versions cut by Barbara McNair in 1968 and Kiki Dee in 1969, although neither was released until the 21st century, in U.K.-compiled anthologies of each artist’s work. In 1982, A Taste of Honey – best known for their disco anthem, “Boogie Oogie Oogie” – recorded “I’ll Try Something New” for their Ladies Of The Eighties album. That same year, the song was also released in a new edition by…Smokey Robinson. Yes, the author himself offered a slower version of the song on Yes It’s You Lady. If Smokey thinks of songs as girlfriends, then what better title for the album containing the remake?
FOOTNOTE: As noted above, the pairing of Diana Ross & the Supremes with the Temptations was a winner – and not only on the music charts. The television special which was the catalyst for the combination, TCB (Takin’ Care of Business), was a Top 5 ratings success when broadcast by NBC-TV in primetime on December 9, 1968. It was Motown Productions’ first television special, and the director, Mark Warren, went on to direct one of the most popular comedy series of the late ’60s, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. That was trying something new, too.