Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Eddie Kendricks - "Keep On Truckin'" (1973)

Eddie Kendricks, the unmistakable falsetto voice of Motown group The Temptations, left for a solo career and his first single just blasted right up the charts.

Like "Green-Eyed Lady," the heavily edited version works fine, but nothing beats the eight-minute epic from the original album or "Ultimate" collection.

The song's production is full -- with strings, horns, prominent clavinet, and xylophone solo -- but it's a mess that actually totally works. You can sort of tell where they spliced the song in the long version, because there's almost no transition from one section to the other. Yet, the groove is so strong, you don't even notice those splices. The ascending minor chord pattern repeats itself in just about every way possible, but each one never for long.

While everything but the kitchen sink grooves for eight minutes, it's pretty much down to Kendricks singing "I'll keep on keep on truckin' bay-bay/I've got to keep o-o-o-on truckin'/Got to get your good lovin'." Right through to the break, where it's just handclaps and Kendricks double-tracked: "I'm the red ball express of lovin'/Diesel-powered straight to you, I'm truckin.'" OK, whatever you say, Eddie.

Actually, it doesn't matter what he says at all. It's the whole over the top relentless production that makes this song a classic.

Of true geek significance is that this is one of the several pop hits created from a popular expression of the day. When counterculture cartoonist Robert Crumb created his Mr. Natural character, he always had him groovin' with one foot extended out with "Keep on Truckin'" over his head (see illustration above left). We'll be looking at more of these "expression" songs, like the outstanding soul song based on a slogan made popular by the late great comedian Flip Wilson on his early 70's TV show.

Six months after "Keep On Truckin'" hit the top of the charts, his Motown production team decided to clone the song and production concept with "Boogie Down" ("Boogie/Boogie down baby/Boo-oo-oo-oogie down!"). It flew pretty high, but it still felt like a blatant attempt to do the same song twice. After that, Kendricks never quite had a major hit again, and traveled the reunion circuit with his old Temps pal David Ruffin until Daryl Hall and John Oates took them on tour in the 80's.

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