Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Temptations and their Psychedelic Phase

I've always loved The Temptations, and would put them up there with The Impressions as my favorite vocal groups of all-time.  When most individuals think of The Temptations, they think of their earlier hits like "My Girl", "Ain't Too Proud To Beg", etc.  Most are unaware of their late 60's/early 70's output, which I actually find more fascinating.  By the late 60's, times were not only changing in our country but also in soul music as well.  Singers and songwriters in soul music were speaking out more in song, singing in protest of Vietnam, of the endless struggle of the black man in our society, basically songs in soul were becoming deeper than the "I love you" lyrics of earlier times.  Stevie Wonder was beginning to break free having to sing cover songs through Motown's directions, and was beginning to write his own songs with political messages.  Marvin Gaye released What's Going On, a politically charged album in protest of the war.  Groups like Sly & The Family Stone were releasing albums like There's A Riot Going On, tackling the heavy issues occurring everyday in the ghetto.  Above all, soul music was experimenting more with sound.  Fuzzed out guitars a la Funkadelic were becoming popular.  Drumming was funkier.  Many of the soul singers just sounded rougher.  And of course, image wise, the soul groups began looking different.  They grew their hair out, wore bell bottoms and paisley shirts.  While The Temptations didn't write their own songs, their main songwriter was Norman Whitfield, who was turned onto Sly & The Family Stone, and soon after began to write his own versions of Sly songs for The Temptations to record.  By the late 60's, The Temptations began an image overhaul musically, as Whitfield was writing songs like "Message From a Black Man", Don't Let the Joneses Get You Down", and "Slave", all sociopolitical messages that were atypical of The Temptations to sing up until this point.
Really, this era of The Temptations is enjoyable stuff and well worth checking out.  The double disc compilation Psychedelic Soul is well worth checking out, as it contains lots of essential soul music.  You could even say that a few of the tracks have a pocket-symphony quality of a soul version of Brian Wilson Smile era music.  Here's a few tracks from the psychedelic era of The Temptations that are worth listening to, starting with "Cloud Nine", the first track which really kicked off the new sound of The Temptations.

 "Psychedelic Shack" was released in a shorter-form as a single, but here is the extended six minute version.  Good stuff, and it is the same version that shows up on the double disc compilation Psychedelic Soul

I can't stress how many good tracks The Temptations recorded during this time.  Norman Whitfield was on a roll during this era, and you got to hand it to him that he was willing to change with the times.  In a later post, I will tackle previous Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks and his early solo albums, well worth checking out as well.
                           This is the look of a psychedelic band--The Temptations! 

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