Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Track of the Week: The Temptations, "I Can't Get Next to You"

I've been a big fan of classic soul music going all the way back to my childhood, but I've let my love of the genre slip a bit in the last couple of years.  This week I blew the dust off of some of my old favorite soul songs, and remembered just what I'd been missing.

I'm particularly partial to the work The Temptations did in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when producer Norman Whitfield added a hard edge to their sweet harmonies and The Funk Brothers (Motown's house band) was at the height of their powers.  Their more political songs from this era ("Ball of Confusion," "Cloud Nine," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" etc.) are probably the best known, but I think "I Can't Get Next to You" truly distills the Temps' essence.

It starts in an off-kilter fashion, with a clapping club audience, and someone imploring "hold it, listen!" introducing a polite blues piano line before the song kicks into motion with some stabbing horns and rough-elbowed funk.  It's a reminder that the Funk Brothers were mostly jazz musicians, and knew how to make the songs SWING.  The rhythm guitars, so woefully absent in modern day music, chug along, daring you not to bob your head.  On top of it all are the band's collection of great and divergent voices, hitting high falsettos matched with baritone croons.  Eddie Kendricks' delivery of the line "I can build a castle from a single grain of sand" still gets me every time.

If that's not awesome enough, the bridge, with the country-tinged guitar and sublime "woo-woos" is a wonderfully unexpected delight.  Things get absolutely transcendent near the end when the guitar reels off a high-pitched cry of anguish before the vocals come in to take the song home with urgent desperation expressing an unbearable desire.  It's one of the greatest five second snippets in the history of popular music.

The song also isn't the Temps old type of mellow love song ("My Girl," "The Way You Do the Things You Do") nor "message" record.  It's a cry of extreme romantic and sexual frustration over not being able to woo someone that your soul burns for.  Perhaps that's why I first got drawn to this song in my younger, swashbuckling days.

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