"Ain't nobody comin' to see you, Otis! You wish you could work it the way I do, but you can't! Because there is only one David Ruffin. And without him, the Temps ain't nothin' but a group in SEARCH of a David Ruffin. Matter of fact, I been thinkin'. We should call the group David Ruffin And The Temptations" - David Ruffin
This is an excellent album from The Temptations (their second) from the beginning of their career. They really proved their worth here as a multi-talented vocal group, with all members capable of taking lead vocals. It is an album where they cover songs written by Smokey Robinson and cover them most impressively they do. Obviously the main vocalists Eddie Kendricks (falsetto) and the soulful David Ruffin are the standout performers, but, for me, Paul Williams has always been my favourite Temptations lead singer. Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin also contribute too. They were all great, let’s face it. The album is also notable for having outstanding stereo sound, especially considering it was 1965. Incredibly good. One of the finest early Motown albums for sound quality.
The Temptin' Temptations (1965)
This album, from 1965, was packed full of singles (not all big hits, though) from the time as The Temptations continued to display what a remarkable collection of voices were on offer. Norman Whitfield was strongly involved in the production but Smokey Robinson was too, and he wrote a lot of the songs.
The poppy, breezy and lively ballad My Baby has Ruffin on a deeper lead, while the more soulful You’ve Got To Earn It and Everybody Needs Love featured Kendricks and, on the latter solid mid-sixties Motown number, Melvin Franklin as well.
Kendricks is back at the lead on the irresistible Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue) and next up is one of my favourite Motown songs of all time - the glorious Don’t Look Back, featuring a supremely soulful vocal from Williams. It was covered by Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger and, in fine style by Elvis Costello (on a live version). I simply love this song. The upbeat I Gotta Know Now has Kendricks on fine form, I think I prefer Kendricks of all of them, but it is a mighty close call. The infectious and soulful Born To Love features Ruffin and Kendricks duetting. I’ll Be Trouble is a very typical Smokey Robinson song led by Kendricks that has strong hints of The Way You Do The Things You Do at some points. You’re The One I Need is a lively Kendricks-Franklin collaboration to finish with that also features a great saxophone solo. The Four Tops were great, so were Martha & The Vandellas and of course The Supremes but, for me, it has always been The Temptations above all others. This album tells you why.
Unlike some Motown acts in the mid-sixties, The Temptations (with a couple of notable exceptions) released albums that were full of genuine Motown material, as opposed to cover versions of easy listening standards. This is a fine example of a credible album, from 1966 too, something relatively unusual. It is also in stereo sound and pretty reasonable sound quality on most tracks.
This is a proper Motown album. Unlike albums from The Four Tops and Diana Ross & The Supremes from the same period, it contained no "filler" in the shape of easy listening, Beatles or Monkees covers. It was comprised of all bona fide Motown songs from either Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, Smokey Robinson or various combinations of these and a few others.
Cloud Nine (1969)This was the album that really changed things for The Temptations, and considerably changed the face and sound of Motown. David Ruffin had left, acrimoniously, replaced by Dennis Edwards and Norman Whitfield had taken over as producer. And how. He swept clean the decks and developed as funky, psychedelic, punchy, socially conscious maelstrom of a sound that single-handedly launched the genre of "psychedelic soul". Apart from Sly & The Family Stone and the odd murmuring from Stevie Wonder, there were no soul artists out the expressing social, racial and cultural awareness until now. The Temptations were truly ground-breaking in that respect, along with Whitfield's visionary production, of course. The stereo sound on this album is revelatory. Wonderful to experience, just turn it up and revel in its sonic glory.
The old "side two" was more typical Temptations Motown soul fare. Seven short sharp, melodic love songs, none of which exceeded three minutes. They are all immaculately sung, and vocals dominate funk far more than on "side one". The rhythms are orchestrated and not in the least "psychedelic" and bit like the way Four Tops albums had a killer side one and a side two made up of "easy listening" cover versions, this album doesn't knit together as one whole. It is almost like two albums. You have to say, though, that Why Did She Have To Leave Me (Why Did She Have To Go) with Edwards supplying a sublime lead vocal is The Temptations at their most beautifully soulful. Similarly, Eddie Kendricks' falsetto vocal on I Need Your Lovin' is outstanding. Paul Williams gives a great lead vocal on Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me and I Gotta Find A Way To Get You Back has such a Northern Soul beat to it. In fact the backing track is the same one from Jimmy Ruffin's He Who Picks A Rose. This side was certainly not a bad side in any way, in fact it is a great soul side of music, it just was quite different to the blistering funk of side one. Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love has a great bass line and Hey Girl and the cover of Lou Rawls' Love Is A Hurtin' Thing are all enjoyable.
After the seismic "side one" of the Cloud Nine album, which saw the beginnings of Norman Whitfield-produced "psychedelic soul", this album came along later in the same year. It was another captivating music of socially aware funky soul and classic, emotional Motown soul.
Producers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong went into full-blown psychedelic soul for this album, having dabbled in it considerably on the previous two albums, 1969's Cloud Nine and Puzzle People. The traditional "Motown Sound" was abandoned and we had rock guitars, electronic keyboards, sound effects, multi-tracked vocals and a huge thumping, funky drum sound. the producers and The Temptations virtually invented "psychedelic soul" as they merged funky rhythms, soulful vocals, rock psychedelia with vast-emerging black consciousness and environmental issues. This was really something quite ground-breaking. The front cover sees the band members pictured in the windows of a gaudy hippy "shack" with a peace sign and "flower power" graffiti on it, along with myriad rainbow colours. They look a bit bemused by it, to be honest. Whitfield was far more "on message" than the individual group members were. Paul Williams was ill, and Eddie Kendrick was falling out with Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin. Listening to the album, though, you would never know it. They simply obeyed Whitfield's commands and laid it down.
It's Summer was the only traditional, Motown-style love song with those typical Temptations harmonies to the fore. However lovely it is, however, it sits somewhat incongruously with the rest of the album's "conscious" offerings. Next up they cover Edwin Starr's iconic anti-war song, War. Although Starr's version is the definitive one, this one cuts the mustard - "good God, y'all...". You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You) is a love song, but one hell of a funked-up one. It is full of buzzy guitars, thumping drums, great vocal harmonies and rumbling bass. Classic turn of the decade Temptations. Friendship Train is a captivating call and response musical call to arms to end the album. It was successfully covered by Gladys Knight & The Pips on their Nitty Gritty album but this is the "go to" version. Racism, political corruption, the Vietnam war - get on that friendship train and forget those things, man. "Shake a hand, make a friend...this train stands for justice, this train stands for freedom..". I couldn't have put it better myself, both in 1970 and right now. Say it loud, brother. This was a superb track, from a superb album. This album should be mentioned in the same breath as What's Going On. It rarely does, but it should. Incidentally, the great single from the period, Ball Of Confusion, was never included on an album.
After three "psychedelic soul" albums produced by Norman Whitfield, this one saw a slight change in that it includes more soulful material, as opposed to funky extended "message" songs. It was also the final album to feature Eddie Kendricks before he left to pursue a solo career. Relations within the group were at a real low point, although it doesn't come across listening to the album.
This was The Temptations'/Norman Whitfield's fifth "psychedelic soul" album. Eddie Kendricks had gone by now, but the remaining voices are still superb, and the socially conscious vibe is still just as strong. It is a pretty determinedly uncommercial album, to be honest, and often slips under the radar.
What It Is? was also covered by Norman Whitfield's other project, The Undisputed Truth. Their version is slower and funkier, actually. The Temptations' one is buried in lots of fuzz guitar and less rhythm and different lyrics. Smooth Sailing (From Now On) is a break in the fervency of the message, giving us a poppy mid-sixties-style Motown number. Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are) was also covered by The Undisputed Truth. The Temptations released it as a single. It was pretty upbeat and poppy too. It's Summer is a remake of a track they did two years earlier on the "Psychedelic Shack" album. This is possibly the better version. Lovely vocal harmonies on it.
The End Of Our Road is a funky, muscular and lively number to end what was a bit of a schizophrenic album containing two tracks that appeared on The Undisputed Truth's album released in the same month and a remake of a track from two years earlier, and, of course the lengthy anti-war number. One got the feeling that they, and Whitfield, were now treading water somewhat. Maybe they had one last great album in them? We would soon find out.
After treading water somewhat with the previous year's Sky's The Limit and Solid Rock from the beginning of 1972, talented producer Norman Whitfield and a re-vamped Temptations were back with anther "psychedelic soul" classic album.
The old "side two" began with Love Woke Me Up This Morning, an orchestrated soulful ballad. This was following the trend of these psychedelic soul albums of having the hard-hitting aware stuff on side one and the gentler, romantic offerings on side two. After the previous three, this lighter number sits a bit incongruously. I Ain't Got Nothin', while soulful in its sound, however, was a much darker, brooding song and far more typical of the group's output at this time. Their cover of Roberta Flack's The First Time Ever (I Saw Your Face) is impressive and the yearning nature of the song suits the album. Mother Nature sees a return to a conscious, "message" number. It is a delicious, bleak slice of concerned soul with a sumptuous bass line and vocal. Do Your Thing is a slow tempo, funky and mysterious burner to end on.
The album obviously revolves around Papa Was A Rolling Stone but there are other notable contributions too and The Temptations showed, with this one, that they still had a couple of great albums left in them. The next, and last great one, would come the following year.
This was the final of The Temptations-Norman Whitfield's seven "psychedelic soul" albums, dating back to 1969, and so good they had all been too. On this one, Whitfield let us creative juices run wild. There are only six tracks on the album, including the magnificent Masterpiece, running at fourteen minutes of heavily orchestrated, hugely atmospheric, immaculately played funky, conscious soul. It is a magnificent piece of work.
The second side of the original album began with Ma, a track that started with some foreboding Native American style drums and a menacing atmosphere and vocal telling of Ma and her backwoods Mississippi life. The riff is decidedly similar to that of Argent's Hold Your Head Up. It is a great song, though, packed with feeling and soulful evocative parts.
Plastic Man takes issue with hypocrisy and falseness. Once more, the musicianship and pounding, muscular funk are irresistible. Check out those horns too. Hurry Tomorrow is a final "message song" about the ills of the contemporary world. It is an eight-minute "mini classic", again very atmospheric, slow burning, and immaculately sung. This, for me, along with Cloud Nine, Puzzle People and Psychedelic Shack was among the best of The Temptations' psychedelic soul albums. Well worth a listen.
|Undisputed Truth||David Ruffin||Curtis Mayfield|