Driving down the M32 towards Bristol tonight caused a song to reverberate through my brain. Even though my CD player (yes, I still play them!) was Massive Attack’s wonderfully dark Heligoland, that song was R Dean Taylor’s Gotta See Jane.
Taylor was that rarity at Tamla Motown, a white Canadian, but founder Berry Gordy Jr didn’t care too much about colour or nationality. He just recognised a fine talent that even today seriously underrated. Anyway, back to the M32.
It’s raining steadily in Bristol tonight – it hardly ever snows down here, like it’s doing in so many places around the land – and the motorway is subject to lane closures galore, as well as speed restrictions due to faulty barriers. It’s not the lightest motorway to drive down at the best of times, and now the lanes are narrow and the lines are hard to follow. And I found myself singing to myself.
“Red light, green light
Speedin’ through the dark night
Drivin’ through the poundin’ rain
I gotta see Jane
Windshield, wiper splishin’, splashin’
Callin’ out her name
Just gotta see Jane.”
The record itself, from 1967, has all the effects described in the lyric. All the rain, the splishin’, splashing’, is there for the ear to hear. Tonight, drivin’ through the pounding’ rain, I was for a brief moment R Dean Taylor, who in the song had “gotta find what (he) left behind”. It is one of the most astonishing and atmospheric songs of all time and, on a good day, I knew all the words.
As a child, I remember being driven by my dad from London to Sheerness. I do not remember the reason for that journey, but I do remember him asking me to sing songs from my brand new edition of the ‘Record Song Book’ which printed the lyrics to all the songs from the charts. There being no internet, the ‘Record Song Book’, which was a small newspaper type magazine not a book, was my lyrical bible. I still have dozens of them. One of the songs I sang, on a dark, dank night on the road through Kent, I was a very young R Dean Taylor. I’ve been singing it ever since.
When you think of Motown, you naturally think of the Supremes, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and so many more, but not everyone thinks of R Dean Taylor. But I do when I driving through a dark night in the rain. It does it for me every time.