TRACK OF THE WEEK
DAY & DATE: Released as a single (Tamla Motown 663) in the U.K. on Friday, July 5, 1968.
SONGWRITERS: Billie Jean Brown, Frederick Long, Suzanne dePasse.
PRODUCER: Shorty Long.
BACKSTORY: EMI Records U.K. issued the soulful novelty that was “Here Comes The Judge” on the Tamla Motown label during the same week that the record peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was Shorty Long’s one major pop hit at home, and his only success – of any scale – on the other side of the Atlantic. As such, it has a special place in Hitsville hearts in Britain, where the single reached its Top 30 peak at the end of July ’68. (Shorty is similarly loved there for his “Out To Get You,” one of the first dozen singles released on the Tamla Motown imprint in the spring of 1965.)
Alabama-born Frederick Long – a shade over five feet in height, hence his nickname – was the first artist on Motown’s Soul Records offshoot, when his sly, self-penned (with Motown A&R chief William “Mickey” Stevenson) “Devil With The Blue Dress” was its first 45 release, in March 1964. Long came on board when his previous home, Harvey Fuqua and Gwen Gordy’s Tri-Phi/Harvey label set-up, was integrated into Berry Gordy’s business circa 1962-63. Others who made the switch were the Spinners, Jr. Walker & the All Stars, writer/producer Johnny Bristol and, of course, Fuqua himself, who became a key creative figure for Team Motown.
“Here Comes The Judge” was the brainchild of Motown Quality Control supremo Billie Jean Brown, who thought that the comedy sketch with that name on TV’s popular Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In series could be exploited in song. The routine featured several different “judges” during its run, including the character’s originator, Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham, Flip Wilson and Sammy Davis, Jr. Brown suggested the idea to Berry Gordy, who agreed with it. “Shorty Long needed a record out,” she told author Don Waller for The Motown Story. “So I got with him and gave him the idea.”
While Brown and Gordy were out of town to see Davis in a new production of the musical Golden Boy, the track was cut at Hitsville. On their return, she continued, “Shorty and I got together, got the lyrics and the story together, and finished it up. I got it mixed and got it out.” The result – Shorty Long’s sixth 45 on Soul – was his biggest-seller, ascending to No. 4 on the Billboard R&B charts as well as its Hot 100 success.
An album named Here Comes The Judge followed, featuring some of Long’s previous Soul singles (“Function At The Junction,” “Night Fo’ Last,” “Devil With The Blue Dress”) and several new songs. However, the singer’s career was tragically cut short in 1969. On June 29, he and a friend were fishing on the Detroit River when the slipstream of a freighter caused their boat to capsize. Both men drowned. Long’s funeral took place in his native Birmingham, Alabama. He was 29.
REMAKES: “Judge Shorty is presiding today/And he don’t take no stuff from nobody.” But on this occasion, Long had to take stuff from the originator of the “judge” he sang about. Chess Records cut a different song entitled “Here Comes The Judge” with comedian Pigmeat Markham, and competed with Motown. Shorty’s single was released May 7, 1968, making its Billboard debut June 15; Markham’s adjudication followed onto the best-sellers two weeks later. Both records reached No. 4 on the R&B rankings, but on the Hot 100, Pigmeat peaked 11 slots short of Shorty. “Here Comes The Judge” has been a popular song title for years, but Long’s hit was his alone.
FOOTNOTE: “Here Comes The Judge” was a rare piece of songwriting by Billie Jean Brown, better known at Motown as the “queen” of Quality Control, playing a key role in the company’s highly-competitive weekly meetings to rate new music made by its producers and artists. Berry Gordy valued her music knowledge and strength of opinion; she was a useful filter, too, regarding all his creative people, forever trying to catch his ear. Also credited as co-writer on “Judge” was Suzanne dePasse, recently recruited by Gordy as a creative assistant; she would go on to run Motown’s movie and TV production division during the 1970s. Both Brown and dePasse wrote another song for, and with, Shorty, “Ain’t No Justice,” which was used as the flipside of “I Had A Dream,” the artist’s last single release of his lifetime.