Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Temptations -- "Can't Get Next To You" (1969)

The Temptations are my favorite Motown group because I got into their style of "psychedelic soul." For all the trouble Stevie Wonder got for addressing contemporary topics, Temptations producer Norman Whitfield had no problem jumping right into poverty, crime, taxes and the Vietnam War.

However, there was nothing topical about "Can't Get Next To You." There was also nothing traditional about it either, since Whitfield created one of Motown heyday's most unusual arrangements in about two minutes and 30 seconds. I always put this song on my party tapes for guaranteed dancing.

The song doesn't even start off with music, but a door slowly creaking open, wild party screaming, and suddenly Dennis Edwards hushes them and says: "Hold it, hold it, listen...." There's a low slow and bluesy piano riff, and then a horn section does three powerful blasts, the piano does a quick little twist and then right into the song.

Way before the "pumping effect" was used in electronic music, Whitfield somehow created a similar effect with this driving beat and "suction" feel of the instrumentation. This is not the Temptations of "My Girl" and "Since I Lost My Baby," but their new era of fuzzy electric guitars and funky rhythms.

Each member of the Temptations takes a line of the verse, with practically no space in between, so it's wonderful to hear them showing off their individual styles:

(Dennis Edwards): I can turn a gray sky blue.
(Melvin Franklin): I can make it rain, whenever I wanted to.
(Eddie Kendricks): I can build a castle from a single grain of sand.
(Paul Williams): I can make a ship sail, uh, on dry land.

After two verses, the song segues into the "train section," where the beat smoothes out into a major key break, and the Temps vocalize their "ooo" that it damn well sounds like a choo choo to me. Then right back to the beat with verse three, and a showstopping pause -- "Cos' I-I-I-I-I... woah, I-I-I-I-I...." and the group comes in like the military with "Can't get next to you!"

What is notable about the two videos below is that Eddie Kendricks is in one and missing in the other. Kendricks left the group to go solo in 1970, so this black and white live video must have been done at that time, considerably after the song was a hit. It's fun to see the group covering for Kendricks trademark falsetto lines.

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