Sunday, 21 August 2011

The Temptations - I Can't Get Next To You (1970/ No. 13/ 9 weeks/ Motown)

It starts like the end of a record; applause and lively party whooping and yelping. This is clearly going to be exciting.

Then a voice attracts the attention of the crowd;

Hold on everybody! Hold it! Hold on... listen!

A bluesy piano line. Then the song proper starts.

Has there ever been as great a vocal group as The Temptations of the late sixties and early seventies? They were reacting to the departure of Jimmy Ruffin, their troubled original member and figurehead, emerging stronger and more defined as individuals from the process. There's a great joy in renewal and re-invention in their music of this period. The Motown writers present them with harder and more socially engaged songs ('Cloud Nine', 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone', et al), and they place their trust in a visionary producer, Norman Whitfield.

Whitfield does two things, he makes them go psychedelic soul, a most appealing genre, giving them funk through wah-wah guitars, driving bongo-style drums, etc. He also, derived from Sly & The Family Stone, accentuates the tremendous range of brilliant and different voices in the group, making the experience of hearing to the babble of diverse interpretation so ecstatically surprising for the listener. Such as the set-up of this song;

Dennis Edwards (certain, grown up tone) I! Can turn the GREY sky BLUE-ah!

Melvin Franklin (lower, sonorous, slightly comic and croony) I can make it rain, whenever I want it to!

Eddie Kendricks (falsetto, excited) I can build a CASTLE from a SINGLE GRAIN OF SAND!

Paul Williams (gritty, aggressive, agitated) I can make a ship sail (Huh!) on dry land!

Otis Williams (smoother, more soulful, sort of regretful insousciance) I can make the seasons change - jus' by a wave of my hand!

This is tremendously exciting, like a team-up of superheroes, the godlike claims made more plausible by the multiplicity of testimonies. But what happens when the voices join together? Dennis Edwards exposes an Achilles heel;

But my life is incomplete, and I'm so bluuue!
'Cause IIIIIIEE! can't get next to you.

(vox X 4) I CAN'T GET NEXT TO YOU! (Dennis: NEXT TO YOU!)

It's a Promethean story, the hydra-headed Temptation challenging the gods with his powers but failing in his human needs. The way that the song is structured and delivered you don't doubt the force of that need for a moment, much though you enjoy being seduced by the superhuman claims.

Those godlike powers in full; in addition to the aforementioned five, flying like a bird in the sky, buying anything that money can buy, turning a river into a raging fire, living forever "if I so desired" (that smooth insouciance again!), turning back the hands of time, changing anything from old to new.

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