1971, and by this stage Diana Ross had buggered off to the bosom of international diva-hood, leaving The Supremes as just another notch on the Motown roster. Or another cash cow franchise for Berry Gordy to milk, if you happen to be more cynical than me.
(Hmm: I rather suspect that no-one’s more cynical than me).
Not that ‘Nathan Jones’ is the aside I’d presumed it to be; it actually sold in pretty decent numbers at the time. Gone but not forgotten. Also covered by Bananarama in the late ’80’s, which I’m fairly sure is indicative of any song’s virility (you can bleat all you like about how grand Let It Bleed or Exile On Main St is, but the simple fact is that the ‘rama didn’t bother with any interpretation; they only land-grabbed the best material).
It’s also a track that I adore; for its simplicity, its cut and thrust, the arrangement chic and lively. Monsieur Jones himself sounds like a cad and a bounder. He’ll have taken off with wrong ‘uns. Been busy feathering his own nest. There’s a sleazy bar, out by the airport – the middle-aged stripper dancing listlessly on the low corner stage, hoodlums gathered around the pool table with their guilty expressions – and when the 70’s detectives in their loud jackets and extra-wide shirt collars turn up to bust the joint, there in the background with his arm around a floozy and a wasted grin plastered all over his chops will be Nathan Jones. Him of the key that no longer fits the lock.
Which is one interpretation of the narrative. Not necessarily the correct version (Jones can’t come home because he’s been kidnapped by cultists. Then sold as a sex slave to evil party clowns. Or maybe he was nothing more than a one night stand, and the vocal point of view is that of a desperate fantasist – take your pick). As a song about abandonment – or empowerment through abandonment – the lyrics imply rather than detail, which forces the listener to work a little in order to tweeze out a story. And whilst (I’d argue) this isn’t the most substantial of tracks – a detectable production line sheen emblazoned across the mix, perhaps? – there is enough pizzazz in both construction and delivery to charm.
The Supremes / Nathan Jones