||"Take a Stroll Thru Your Mind"
In 1968, at the top of their game and on the top of the charts
following such monstrous hits as "My Girl" and "Ain't
Too Proud To Beg", the Temptations shockingly severed ties
with David Ruffin, their silk-voiced frontman, after months of
infighting. Motown's classic male vocal combo had always been
a group effort, but nonetheless this was a bold and shocking move,
and no doubt their future was unclear at best. What followed,
however, was an incredible second life for the group, as they
undertook sharp stylistic innovation to keep pace with the turbulent
change in the world all around them, and a long string of critical
and popular successes as they trail-blazed a new type of black
music that came to be known as psychedelic soul.
Dennis Edwards took over the vacated fifth spot in the group,
and his raw, powerful delivery gave the band an undercurrent of
rage that matched the sounds emanating from crumbling American
inner cities all around them. With Norman Whitfield writing and
producing, the Temptations dropped "Cloud Nine", a streetwise
rhapsody on the truths of inner-city life, drug use and escapism,
which combined with Dennis Coffey's wah-wah guitar hook was a
bold mission statement for a group better known for sad paeans
to lovelorn heartache. The tune was a top 10 pop hit, and won
Motown their first Grammy, and a new era began for the group.
For the next five years, Whitfeld and the Tempts rode the wave.
This stellar 2-CD collection covers all the biggest singles and
album tracks of this period, including songs from the albums "Cloud
Nine", "Puzzle People", "Psychedelic Shack",
"Sky's The Limit", "Solid Rock", "All
Directions", "Masterpiece", and 1973's "1990".
The big hits are here, including classics like "I Can't Get
Next To You", "Slave", "War", "Smiling
Faces Sometimes", "Papa Was A Rolling Stone", and
stunning alternate versions of "Psychedelic Shack" and
"Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today)".
All they left off is the sound of the walls of soul music convention
toppling, as Whitfield and the Temptations follow their muse into
uncharted territory. They often blow off traditional pop form
by abandoning the verse-chorus repetition and three-minute time
limit that are radio staples, with a majority of these songs clocking
in at well over five, or even 10 minutes. They pioneer what has
become a hip-hop calling card with rapid-fire alternating lead
vocalists, as each man steps to the mic to take a stanza. They
inject politics and anger back into black pop. And they open the
door for the psych-soul that is to follow, from Parliament-Funkadelic
to the Rotary Connection and beyond, creating mainstream, chart-topping
success out of the modern black urban experience. Angry, poignant,
and intense, this ain't no Big Chill, and this collection
is the best introduction you can find to a classic and still-relevant
period in American music. Be tempted. [JM]