Pop Essays #26: Marvin and Tamara, ‘Groove Machine’

Bringing you another genuine nugget of awesomeness from my personal music archives, every Thursday at midday, it’s Pop Essays. Many a great duo have been written about before – so here’s a twosome that got away for this week…

  • Artist: Marvin and Tamara
  • Song: Groove Machine
  • Release Date: 26/07/1999
  • Writers: John McLaughlin / Steve Du Berry
  • Producer: Steve Du Berry
  • Chart Run: 11 – 28 – 36 – 44 – 67 – 92 – 83

Now, it may not have escaped your notice that I am a diehard fan of the music of 1999 (I did write a whole series of blogs about it, after all). But alas, for every S Club 7, for every Britney Spears, for every Shania Twain or Backstreet Boys I wrote about from my golden year for pop music, there are some songs which I was just itching to write about but never got the chance to.

In the time since I finished those blogs, the brilliant Can’t Stop the Pop (I seriously can’t recommend them enough them and love their work) has actually written about the very same act and indeed song I am covering this week. I am mindful therefore, that what I write is probably adding little to the table – the untouched HP Sauce sachets at the breakfast buffet, if you will. With that in mind, let us progress to the short but sweet career of Marvin and Tamara.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Don’t tell me a record company thought it a genius idea to have Marvin Gaye record and release an album of songs with ‘it’ girl Tamara Beckwith. To which I say oh no no no. This was a year when Adam Rickitt could get a record deal, true, but they weren’t that daft. No, they were in actual fact Marvin Lee Simmons and Tamara Bentham, two 13 year olds (as they were then) from London who just happened to be part of the big pop explosion of that year.

They were signed to Epic Records at a time when their coffers were pretty full and the champagne – theoretically speaking – flowed freely where pop was concerned; B*Witched had just delivered a record breaking four number ones off their self titled debut album. Jennifer Lopez had just been launched to Transatlantic booty shaking glory, and a new girl group mit instruments called Thunderbugs had just been signed (more on whom in a future essay).

At that time in 1999, duos just weren’t the done deal, although with plenty of boybands, girl groups and solo stars around, it made sense to try; the 80s after all had had plenty of successful twosomes in pop, Wham! and Mel & Kim for example. After supporting Steps on tour, Marvin and Tamara’s debut waxing ‘Groove Machine’ was unveiled in the summer of that year as they were very much pushed as a high priority launch.

The obvious touchstone of reference to this exuberant sounding first single was to Cleopatra (comin’ atcha), the sisterly trio from Manchester who had cornered a similar area of the market musically the year before, and had also found success in America as a result (pros of being signed to Madonna’s record label).

But at the same time, it’s that impactful, joyous, life affirming sort of pop that was so commonplace that year and just isn’t done anymore, with a total earworm of a chorus to boot: ‘G to the R double O-V-E / Get on that groove machine / Let’s get this party jumpin’, pumpin’ / G to the R double O-V-E / Got all my crew and me / Here we go for the whole weekend’.

It’s also elevated by Tamara’s super sweet soul vocals – reminiscent of Millie Small of ‘My Boy Lollipop’ fame – offset by Marvin’s ragga toasting which immediately positioned him as a baby version of Shaggy. In fact, the only thing that may have counted against them was their age at the time. Perhaps it was just that bit too young to be aiming at the market.

Still, the #11 debut and three week stay ‘Groove Machine’ achieved in the top 40 suggested that there was interest and there might have been room to grow. But it was the release of their follow-up single, ‘North, South, East, West’ which scuppered their chances completely. Released in the pre-Christmas/millennium rush, it failed to make the chart initially, crawling inside for a stay at #38 once we hit Y2K. And that was that.

The talent and the partnership was evidently there with Marvin and Tamara. But one can only wonder if, given a few more years to bed in vocally and performance wise, and be of an age where they could actually properly promote their material and cross over to a wider audience, if they could have been bigger. The confidence and ease of this single suggests they might well have done.

Don’t forget to follow our brand new Pop Essays playlist on Spotify, which includes all the songs we’ve written about. What are your memories of this week’s featured song or band? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or message us on our Instagram.

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