Cloud Nine (1969)
Cloud Nine/I Heard It Through The Grapevine/Runaway Child Running Wild/Love Is A Hurtin' Thing/Hey Girl/Why Did She Have To Leave Me (Why Did She Have To Go)/I Need Your Lovin'/Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me/I Gotta Find A Way To Get You Back/Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love
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.
Cloud Nine is a superb, muscular opener with an outstanding deep, bassy stereo sound that just blasts out of your speakers, while their jazzy cover of Marvin Gaye's I Heard It Through The Grapevine had a funky appeal, despite the "default" status of Gaye's version. Runaway Child Running Wild is over eight minutes of hard-hitting social comment, full of buzzsaw guitars, titanic drums, convincing vocals, sumptuous percussion and one hell of a message regarding urban living. The bit where the child cries over the insistent, funk backing is chilling. This was the original "side one" - three remarkable cuts that made people sit up and take notice of the changing musical times.
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. This side was certainly not a bad side in any way, in fact it 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.
Puzzle People (1969)
I Can't Get Next To You/Hey Jude/Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down/Message From A Black Man/It's Your Thing/Little Green Apples/You Don't Love Me No More/Since I've Lost You/Running Away (Ain't Gonna Help You)/That's The Way Love Is/Slave
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.
The opener, I Can't Get Next To You has a super intro in the opening door and "wait a minute" vocal before it kicks into a magnificent piece of lively, funky, punchy Motown pop. I'm not often a fan of covers of The Beatles' Hey Jude but this buzzy, guitar driven, funkily soulful one is actually quite quirkily appealing. Talking of funk, Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down is a thumping slice of psychedelic soul/funk - muscular bass drums and excellent trade-off vocals. The big "message" song on the album is the now iconic Message From A Black Man. "No matter how hard you try you can't stop me now...." and "...yes, your skin is white, does that make you right...." are prime examples of the hard-hitting, ground-breaking nature of this titanic song. The vocal/percussion face-off at the end is so powerful.
It's Your Thing is a hot funky burner led by some searing buzzsaw guitar . Written by The Isley Brothers, it demonstrates just how funky The Temptations had now become. Those wonderful, soulful love songs were still here, but there was also some seriously cookin' funk. Covers were still popping up every now and again, however, too. Roger Miller's Little Green Apples had also been covered by the Four Tops and if it sat somewhat incongruously on their album, it did so even more here, despite Paul Williams' excellent, powerful vocal. Three classic pieces of melodic, catchy Temptations soul are up next in You Don't Love Me No More with its stunning wah-wah guitar intro, the irresistible Since I've Lost You and the rhythmic Running Away (Ain't Gonna Help You). I remember first hearing these three cuts on a seventies "Motown Special" Temptations compilation and loving them, so they have great memories for me.
That's The Way Love Is is a catchy, soulful mid-paced number and Slave is the final "aware" number, a moving, pulsating piece of funky soul about prison life. It has a great rhythm and owes a bit to Sam Cooke's Chain Gang in its "ooh-ahh" vocal backing. It is full of fuzztone and wah-wah too. A powerful end to another mighty album from Motown's finest group, for me.
Psychedelic Shack (1970)
Psychedelic Shack/You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth/Hum Along And Dance/Take A Stroll Through Your Mind/It's Summer/War/You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You)/Friendship Train
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.
Psychedelic Shack was a superb, energised and catchy opener, while You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth (covered also by Whitfield's The Undisputed Truth) introduced us to that intoxicating funky beat and cynical, portentous lyrics. Hum Along And Dance (later covered by Rare Earth and The Jackson 5) had a rich, deep throbbing bass line matched by the vocals in places and a huge pounding rhythm. This was soul the like of which had not been known before, with the possible exception of Sly & The Family Stone. The vocals are only occasional, it is basically an instrumental groove that segues into the bass line of the trippy Take A Stroll Through Your Mind. It vocally delves into their earlier hit My Girl for a line or two before heading into eight minutes of typical early seventies stream of consciousness stuff. This is as druggy as any Motown act ever got. The bass line is wonderful throughout the track and one hell of a buzzy guitar joins the fray half way through, along with some gorgeous, crystal clear cymbal work. Remember, this is a group previously known for three minute soul/love songs coming out with adventurous material like this. Good Lord above, the times were a-changing.
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.
Sky's The Limit (1971)
Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love/Just Your Imagination (Running Away With Me)/I'm The Exception To The Rule/Smiling Faces Sometimes/Man/Throw A Farewell Kiss/Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)/Love Can Be Anything (Can't Nothing Be Love But Love)
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.
The opener, Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love is a string-orchestrated romantic number and that can be said even more for the huge hit single, Just Your Imagination (Running Away With Me). It is a perfect creation and is regular included in those "all time Motown best of" lists. I'm The Exception To The Rule, previously recorded by The Marvelettes in 1964, is a big production, dramatic ballad. After the dynamic impact of the previous three albums, it came as something of a surprise to hear these sweet soul grooves replacing all the fuzzy guitar and funky wah-wah sounds.
The brooding soul/funk thankfully returns, however, with the buzz twelve minute workout of Smiling Faces Sometimes. This track was also recorded by The Undisputed Truth and it achieved more success with them. There are long extended instrumental passages in the track, starting a trend that would notably continue with the following year's Papa Was A Rolling Stone. The psychedelic essence to the lengthier tracks was now being replaced by an insistent, orchestrated soul backing. these were now big production soul numbers as opposed to sixties-influenced psychedelic soul numbers. Man is a short, harmonious gospelly number about the working life. I am sure Bruce Springsteen's Factory was influenced by this one in parts. Like Man, Throw A Farewell Kiss is a melodious, piano-driven ballad that eventually gets bassy and powerful. These cuts were far removed from Message From A Black Man, for example, neither do they have a typical Motown sound.
The one other slightly "conscious" song is the upbeat, fuzzy, Staple Singers-influenced Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World) with its thumping Northern Soul, stomping beat. The final track is the album's other lengthy one, Love Can Be Anything. It has funky passages and some deep rhythms and paves the way for albums like 1973's Masterpiece. There is all sorts in it - jazzy parts, funky parts, sweeping strings, harmonious vocals, punchy horns. It does seem a bit indulgent in places, though, despite some good parts. The same applies to this album, actually. It is nowhere near as impressive as the previous three, despite occasional high points. There is general feeling of incompleteness about it. Maybe that tension within the band and also with the producer was more apparent than it initially appeared to be.
Solid Rock (1972)
Take A Look Around/Ain't No Sunshine/Stop The War/What It Is?/Smooth Sailing (From Now On)/Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)/It's Summer/The End Of Our Road
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.
Took A Look Around is a hard-hitting "message song". Ain't No Sunshine is, of course, the Bill Withers song made famous by Michael Jackson. It is done well here, with a slowed-down vocal intro. It is largely an instrumental groove for the first four of the song's seven minutes. The percussion on it is infectious .
The album was notable for its twelve-minute anti-Vietnam war psychedelic soul workout, Stop The War that begins with The Lord's Prayer, a tolling bell and some weird electronic noises. It irritated some no doubt, but it is a masterpiece of psychedelic soul. It is slow, meandering, indulgent maybe, but funky as hell in places. "Does anybody give a damn - about the brothers in Vietnam...?" is repeated endlessly as the wah-wah and frantic percussion builds up into a maelstrom of funky confusion and the vocal arrives after four minutes. It is a titanic track, make no mistake. Utterly uncommercial. It merges into Edwin Starr's War half way through. This was strong stuff in 1972. It cannot be underestimated how brave it was to put out this sort of thing.
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.
All Directions (1972)
Funky Music Sho' Nuff Turns Me On/Run Charlie Run/Papa Was A Rolling Stone/Love Woke Me Up This Morning/I Ain't Got Nothin'/The First Time Ever (I Saw Your Face)/Mother Nature/Do Your Thing
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 album kicks off with the "fake live" sound of Funky Music Sho' Nuff Turns Me On, which s three minutes or so of rumbling funky soul. Run Charlie Run is a socially aware anti-racist song, that gratuitously and wryly uses the "n' word to make its point, played over a cookin' horn-driven backing. Up next is an absolute classic. A track that proved The Temptations were anything but finished, not for a while at least. Here you get the full twelve minute version. Papa Was A Rolling Stone has that intoxicating bass and slow burning funky orchestration of an intro before Dennis Edwards comes in with his legendary "it was the third of September..." opening line. Great stuff. Funnily enough, Whitfield first used the song with his other main group, The Undisputed Truth. Good as they were, this is the definitive version, no doubt about that.
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.
Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)/Masterpiece/Ma/The Law Of The Land/Plastic Man/Hurry Tomorrow
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.
Hey Girl (I Like Your Style) opens the album with a sweet piece of melodic soul, before we get the majesty of Masterpiece. It is crammed full of brooding funk, cynical, socially aware lyrics and huge, sweeping orchestral runs. The whole thing, indeed the album, comes over as a sort of Whitfield solo, instrumental album, with The Temptations enhancing it with occasional vocals. The bass and percussion are sumptuous on this track, as they are throughout the album, it has to be said. Instrumentally, it certainly is a masterpiece. There wasn't really anywhere else the group could go after this, other than "back to basics". This was a high point in soul creativity, up there with any of the great rock or prog rock creations from the same period.
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. The Law Of The Land is the last truly great Temptations classic. It is a superb, uplifting, upbeat, pounding slab of soul magnificence. I love it and never tire of its infectious, pulsating rhythms. From its first few seconds, it kicks posterior. When the drums kick in - wow. One of my favourite tracks of all time, from anyone. Just perfect.
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.
Psychedelic Soul Compilation
This is a stunning compilation of late 60s/early 70s material.
Before What's Going On, before Innervisions, it was The Temptations who were ploughing the original furrow of Motown social comment. Man, did they lay some grooves down too.Virtually inventing "Psychedelic Soul" they latched on to the psychedelic trends of late 1960s music and, as opposed to wittering on about kaleidoscopes, vegetables, rainbows and drug-addled purple hazes, they went straight for the urban poor experience. Starting with the "there's a promised land out there somewhere" yearning of the upbeat Cloud Nine from 1968, this is roller coaster of socially conscious funk. Great lyrics against a peerless backing.
Highlights of Disc One are the epic, extended, heartbreaking Runaway Child Running Wild, the funky pop of I Can't Get Next To You, the iconic Message From A Black Man, the obvious sad references of Slave and the glory of Psychedlic Shack, man. Basically, all of them - You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell and the impossibly catchy Chairmen Of The Board-ish Hum Along And Dance. Then there is the intoxicating funky soul of Friendship Train.
Lordy, these guys got it right with this stuff.
Thankfully, to my delight, all the cuts on this release are the full versions as opposed to extended "single" releases. They are all the better for it. Yes, even the twelve minutes of Disc Two's Papa Was A Rolling Stone. Twelve minutes is not enough for this beauty. As for Ball Of Confusion. Wow. What a track.
Smiling Faces Sometimes (also covered impressively by The Undisputed Truth) kicks off Disc Two. Take A Look Around is beautiful and Funky Music Sho’ ‘Nuff Turns Me On speaks for itself. Masterpiece is a wonderful piece of indulgence the equal of Papa Was A Rolling Stone and Plastic Man is great too.
Remastered magnificently, my only gripe is that the titanic, pulsating Law Of The Land is not included. No matter, I made my own version digitally and added it.
Highly recommended monster of a compilation from this monster of a group. Not enough superlatives to use.