The Undisputed Truth (1971)
You Got The Love I Need/Save My Love For A Rainy Day/California Soul/Aquarius/Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today)/Smiling Faces Sometimes/We've Got A Way Out Love/Since I've Lost You/Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone/I Heard It Through The Grapevine/Like A Rolling Stone
This was The Undisputed Truth's debut album. The group were the creation of Temptations producer Norman Whitfield. Their sound mixed traditional Motown sounds with psychedelic soul and often expressed an awareness of contemporary social issues. They had an infectious, harmonious vocal style and their backing was often more funky than that of other Motown acts. Lead singer Joe Harris had a great voice, but is rarely mentioned when great Motown vocalists are listed. A lot of their material was cover versions of Temptations songs, but often they were lengthy, almost jam-like versions, as opposed to note for note. These were all impressive, but it did mean, however, that the group found it difficult to forge their own identity.
You Got The Love I Need is a rousing, upbeat, very typically Motown-ish number, with excellent vocals and horns. It actually uses the same backing track as was used on The Temptations' 1965 I Got Heaven Right Here On Earth. Save My Love For A Rainy Day is a soulful, very Temptations-esque song, with vocals that almost be David Ruffin. Again, the song was originally recorded by The Temptations on their 1967 album A Lot O' Soul. California Soul was a Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson song, previously recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, amongst others. Here it is given that harmonious, funky Undisputed Truth treatment.
Aquarius taps into the contemporary hippy free spirit thing, man, with a cover of the lively number from the musical Hair. The Undisputed Truth also were known for extended socially conscious songs and the first one on here is a cover of The Temptations' iconic Ball Of Confusion. Their version is ten minutes long and pretty different in arrangement to the original. There are similarities, of course, but theirs features more vocal and musical ad-libbing. It out-psychedelics The Temptations, which was no mean feat. They used The Funk Brothers' original, extended backing track that they laid down for The Temptations' version.
Smiling Faces Sometimes was most definitely The Undisputed Truth's song (despite The Temptations doing it later). It is pretty much their signature tune. It is a gospel meets street funk, Staple Singers-influenced classic of a song. "Can you dig it"? Sure we can. Great stuff. It was deservedly a hit single for the group. The catchy We've Got A Way Out Love was originally done by The Originals in 1969. Up next are two more Temptations covers - the beautifully soulful Since I've Lost You and Ain't No Sun Since You've Been Gone. The former is a slow soul ballad, while the latter is given an energetic, bassy, funky backing. The vocals and percussion are superb on this. Gladys Knight & The Pips also covered it, by the way.
The Truth's cover of I Heard It Through The Grapevine is punchy and full-on, offering something different from both Marvin Gaye's iconic version and the original, by Gladys Knight & The Pips. It is full of buzzy guitar breaks and pounding drums. The last track is a brave, souled-up, slowed-down take on Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone. It works, however, giving the song a deep, soulful passion.
Much as I have always loved The Undisputed Truth, I feel it would have been better for them if they had been given full albums of songs written especially for them. That is not to say I don't love all their covers, because I do. Everything they do, they do well. Highly recommended. This is a great soul album.
Face To Face With The Truth (1972)
You Make You Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth/What It Is?/Ungena Za Ulimwenga (Unite The World)/Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)/Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me/Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me/What's Going On
The first of the seven tracks, You Make You Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth is slower than The Temptations' version and it really gets the message across. What It Is? is upbeat, lively and full to the brim with pulsating funky soul. Joe Harris, Brenda Joyce and Billie Calvin lay down some fantastic vocals here and throughout this impressive album. The sound is also absolutely wonderful in its remastered format. Big, warm, full and bassy. The first huge production track is Ungena Za Ulimwenga (Unite The World) which is merged with Gladys Knight's Friendship Train to deliver one hell of a message for racial and cultural unity.
Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are) is a short, sharp, pounding single-style cut, as indeed is the bassy, rhythmic take on Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me. This album has it all. It really was a golden age for soul/funk. They don't make albums like this anymore. Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me is magically soulful with one sublime vocal. Superb. Marvin Gaye's iconic What's Goin' On is given a nine-minute, extended soul workout full of killer vocals and infectious percussion. It is the match of the original. This is a most underrated, highly recommended album. Ain't that the truth. Can you dig it?
Law Of The Land (1973)
Law Of The Land/Papa Was A Rolling Stone/Girl You're Alright/Killing Me Softly With His Song/Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)/This Child Needs Its Father/Mama I Gotta Brand New Thing (Don't Say No)/Feelin' Alright/Love And Happiness/With A Little Help From My Friends/If I Die/Walk On By/Gonna Keep On Tryin' 'Till I Win Your Love
Norman Whitfield first tried out his psychedelic soul numbers on The Undisputed Truth before finding chart success with them via the Temptations. Quite a few of them appear on this album, and many of the other tracks are covers of other artists' songs given the distinctive Undisputed Truth male/female gospel-influenced vocal treatment, over a solid, infectious, often funky backing. This was The Undisputed Truth's third album, and the last recorded with their original line-up. Original members Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans left after this one had been released. On this one, though, they join once more with fellow vocalist Joe Harris and are backed by several highly competent Motown musicians.
The album differs from the previous two (especially the second one) in the comparative brevity of the tracks. There are no lengthy, big production workouts on this offering. Most of the tracks could conceivably have been released as pretty good soul singles.
Law Of The Land doesn't quite match The Temptations' peerless, uplifting version, but this one is good too, with some impressive gospelly vocals and brass sections. It is funkier than The Temptations' one too, with some space-funk sound effects. Up next is another original version of a Temptations classic - the iconic Papa Was A Rolling Stone. This one is definitely the inferior version, lacking that wonderful extended bass intro that so characterised The Temptations' version. Mind you, if this was the only version you had ever heard, its concise, deep, harmonious, soulful vibe would certainly impress.
Girl You're Alright is a deep but sweetly soulful ballad that just sounds so typical of early seventies soul. Roberta Flack's Killing Me Softy With His Song is covered pretty authentically, full of slow, sensual soul.
The Temptations' big hit, Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) suffers from a not-too convincing female vocal in this case. It is too high in pitch for me. Maybe I am just too used to The Temptations' version. Again, standing alone, it is still a good soul offering.
This Child Needs Its Father had been recorded by Gladys Knight & The Pips and is a slow, sombre warning backed by some dark string/brass orchestration. Mama I Gotta Brand New Thing is one of the album's best tracks - a cookin' piece of upbeat, brassy seventies, urban soul with some seriously good vocal interplay between the three vocalists.
Traffic's Feelin' Alright is slowed down and given an appealing gospel makeover. Love And Happiness was an Al Green song. It still has Green's distinctive, seductive Memphis sound.
So many sixties and seventies soul albums had a Beatles cover. Here we get With A Little Help From My Friends, which has always lent itself to a soul interpretation. If I Die is a Marvin Gaye-style yearning, meaningful number, with a thumping bass and brass backing. Isaac Hayes/Dionne Warwick's Walk On By is covered in regulation soul fashion.
Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love is a Temptations cover with a vocal that sounds very like David Ruffin.
I will always enjoy anything by The Undisputed Truth, but they did have a problem with creating an identity for themselves, possibly because most of the material was either a cover version or a song that The Temptations did better with. It was a shame because their vocals and the backing used were uniformly excellent.
Down To Earth (1974)
Help Yourself/Big John Is My Name/Brother Louie/I'm A Fool For You/Our Day Will Come/Just You'n Me/Love And Happiness/Law Of The Land/The Girl's Alright With Me/Save My Love For A Rainy Day
This was a bit of a watershed album in the career of The Undisputed Truth. Original Undisputed Truth members Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans left shortly before the recording of this album, and the group's producer, Temptations guru Norman Whitfield, took the opportunity to expand the group. Founding member and male lead singer Joe Harris was joined by Virginia "V" McDonald, Tyrone "Big Ty" Douglas, Tyrone "Lil Ty" Barkeley and Calvin "Dhaak" Stephenson, all of whom had been part of The Magictones, a local Detroit soul group.
The album first six tracks are new recordings by this line-up, but the last four were recorded by the original line-up and appeared, like Love and Happiness and Law Of The Land, on the previous album, or as singles, as the final two tracks had. The album is full of quality seventies soul, however, but it was not as successful as the group's previous offerings. It is also pretty short, populated with three minute potential singles, on the whole.
Help Yourself is a pounding, funky Norman Whitfield number, with a solid beat and punchy brass backing. Big John Is My Name is another pulsating Whitfield song, with excellent male/female vocal interplay. It is very much done in a Temptations style, unsurprisingly. It also has hints of Sly & The Family Stone and The Staples Singers. It has lyrics about not wanting to smoke dope like his friends but just "play funky music" instead.
Brother Louie is a cover of the Hot Chocolate song about inter-racial relationships. It is a powerful, soulful rendition, but it sort of lacks the instant appeal of the original. It does not feature the hard-hitting spoken parts that the Hot Chocolate version contained.
I'm A Fool For You is a classic slice of poppy seventies soul. Our Day Will Come is a piece of easy-listening sweet soul with a nice female lead vocal. Just You'n Me is also in the same vein, but more brass-driven and powerful, in a typically mid-seventies soul ballad way. It is notable on this album that there is a switch to this sort of material in place of the psychedelic, funky soul of the earlier albums. The group were running the risk, however, in doing this, of becoming just another soul band.
As mentioned earlier, the sumptuous Memphis-esque cover of Al Green's Love And Happiness and Law Of The Land (made famous by The Temptations) had appeared on the previous year's album. This hinted a a lack of material, you have to say. They are both quality tracks, though. The Girl's Aright With Me is a poppy, very Motown single.
Save My Love For A Rainy Day was a successful single and is an excellent, very David Ruffin-esque wonderful slice of soul. You could almost say it was Ruffin with The Temptations on hearing it. Overall, this was a short but enjoyable album, but it marked a slight change in approach from The Undisputed Truth.
Cosmic Truth (1975)
Earthquake Shake/Down By The River/UFOs/Lil' Red Riding Hood/Squeeze Me, Tease Me/Spaced Out/Got To Get My Hands On Some Lovin'/1990/(I Know) I'm Losing You
This album saw The Undisputed Truth changing their emphasis once again, having gone from psychedelic soul to easy listening soul, they now came powering back with a largely contemporary, George Clinton-style spacey funk format. It is a sort of Funkadelic meets Earth, Wind & Fire sound. This sort of funk was very de rigeur in 1975. It must have been a bit of a shock to the system to those who had enjoyed the group's earlier albums, but group like The Isley Brothers had moved in a similar direction. Just check out that rear cover image, though!
Earthquake Shake is a wonderful, vibrant piece of the afore-mentioned spacey funk, full of searing guitar, pulsating rhythm and an almost nineties-style thumping dance beat. It is presented here in full, extended form.
Down By The River is a slow-burning, chilled-out, churchy organ-driven number. It is, of course, a cover of Neil Young's late sixties song. Here it is given a buzzy guitar sound very reminiscent of Ernie Isley's style. That guitar subsequently appears all over the album.
UFOs, was predictably spacey, utilising some keyboard sound effects to that effect. It has an intoxicating, deep bass line and the lyrics exploit the contemporary obsession with space, aliens, ufos and the like, warning us about those freaky lights in the sky. Lil' Red Riding Hood is a rumbling, pounding slow funker of a track. It is again enhanced by some searing guitar and accompanying chunky riffs. "What kind of funny cigarette is that I'm smokin'..." goes the lyric leaving no doubt as to the vibe it is conveying, man.
Squeeze Me Tease Me has a deliciously fuzzy guitar backing and an infectious groove from the first minute to the last. Gone are the gospelly male/female vocal interplays of the previous alums, here they are replaced by predominantly male, gruff, uber-funky voices. Spaced Out is a heavy funk workout. It is full-on funk rock and not as spacey as you might expect. Got To Get My Hands On Some Lovin' is in the same style as most of the album - solid, muscular funk with heavy rock guitar interspersed throughout.
1990 was also a Temptations song and it fins the group going overtly political about "trouble in The White House", pollution and urban poverty. The guitar solo on this awesome. Another mighty Temptations cover closes the album with the group's marvellous take on (I Know) I'm Losing You. This is a throwback to The Truth's earlier psychedelic soul outings, but it includes their current guitar sound and some terrific vocal/bass/drum/piano interaction. There are even some jazzy piano passages on it too. Great stuff. This is an album that should have been given far more credit than it ever got. It is up there with the great funk/rock/soul albums of the seventies.
Higher Than High (1975)
Higher Than High/Poontang/Life Ain't So Easy/Boogie Bump Boogie/Help Yourself/I'm In The Red Zone/Overload/I Saw When You Met Her/Ma
The spacey funky groove of the same year’s Cosmic Funk is continued on this release from later in 1975. There is a bit more of a return to the group’s essential soulful, driving funk/soul feel in places, though. There are definite snatches of the classic albums from 1971-1973. The tracks are shorter, with less extended workouts than on some previous albums. It is a different album from those early Temptations-influenced psychedelic soul albums but it is a good one, a really good example of funky soul.
Higher Than High is a pulsating, lively piece of horn and electric keyboard funk to kick off the album with. Check out that funky brass part near the end and the Sly Stone-ish vocal. Poontang has an infectious, rhythmic slow beat and a very Parliament/Funkadelic psychedelic funk vibe to it.
Life Ain’t So Easy has a slow, under-cooked, quite intro that takes nearly two minutes to kick in, but when it does it is a super piece of gritty soul with a sad message to it. The shared vocals are wonderful, full of hard-hitting urban soul pedigree. Even in this latter period of the group’s career, they could still seriously cut it. This is a great track.
The funk is back on the copper-bottomed spacey funk groove of Boogie Bump Boogie, with its typically mid-seventies funk vocals, sci-fi keyboard sound effects and searing guitar. The funk is so hot on this track it hurts. Help Yourself is a rhythmic funker full of great fatback drum sounds and sharp guitar interjections. Those drums really cook on this one, as does the big, throbbing, rubber-band bass.
I’m In The Red Zone has some seriously buzzy funky guitar breaks and a big, strong, soulful Temptations meet Edwin Starr vocal. Overload also sounds like Edwin Starr and has the group bemoaning various things about contemporary life over a frantic funky beat. I Saw When You Met Her rumbles with a deep, soulful feel and the vocals are superb, as is the backing. Proper funky soul.
The album's longest track is its only Temptations connection, a cover of Ma from their 1973 Masterpiece album. The Truth deal with superbly, with some great vocal harmonies, interaction and killer drums that pound right out of your speakers. There is more great guitar all over it too.
This is a little-mentioned but really impressive album with excellent sound quality as well.
The Very Best Of The Undisputed Truth
Following the steps of The Temptations’ brand of socially-conscious “Psychedelic Soul”, this male and female vocals, horns and funk band never quite got the credit or success their brief few years of output deserved.
Several of the tracks were also recorded by The Temptations, and by and large it is those that are the definitive versions. However, The Undisputed Truth’s versions are still listenable. Papa Was A Rolling Stone is much shorter, but more funky and horn driven; Law Of The Land concentrates more on vocal harmonies; Smiling Faces Sometimes is again shorter, and more obvious as a single; You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell is the one where The Truth’s version more than competes with The Temps’ one. A fine funky workout it is too.
Marvin Gaye’s What's Goin' On is covered in a laidback, soulful fashion. This is one they extend to a full nine minutes, with an excellent instrumental fade out.
As for the band’s own material, the Stax-y opener Save My Love For A Rainy Day is impressive, as is the excitingly funky What It Is. Girl You're Alright is a romantic one and Mama I Got A Brand New Thing is another excellent funker, as are Help Yourself and I'm A Fool For You. Lil' Red Riding Hood is a forerunner of the sort of thing Parliament and Funkadelic did in the 1980s.
Some of the later tracks see them going about UFO’s and being Spaced Out and the quality dips a little, but not much.