Gordy G 7028 (A), January 1964
b/w Just Let Me Know
b/w Just Let Me Know
(Released in the UK under license through Stateside Records)
Enter David Ruffin, and – not coincidentally – the Temptations as we know them.
Smokey Robinson, back in control of the Temptations after a brief power struggle (of which more later) had his missing jigsaw piece for the vocal mix – the last piece he needed to unlock the potential of Eddie Kendricks or Paul Williams on lead, not a new lead vocalist in his own right just yet – people forget this – and it’s fantastic. This was probably cut at the very first session in 1964 when David joined his new bandmates in the studio, and the new blend works right off the bat. Eddie immediately seems more comfortable in his lead role than at any time during the last three years, and suddenly everyone’s on top form, bringing the quasi-Fifties smooth-with-a-hard-edge sound that immediately says “Temptations”. Vocally, this is as near to the Platonic ideal of a Temptations sound Smokey must have had in mind as anything that came before or since.
The tune, too, seems to herald a new era, bursting with cheeky confidence, the insouciance of a record that already knows it’s going to be a hit. (Which is pretty much the case; Smokey – with Miracles bandmate Bobby Rogers – and Motown boss Berry Gordy had each written a new song for the Tempts, and when they disagreed over which had the greater commercial potential, they put it to a public vote. Smokey won hands down; Berry’s song, Just Let Me Know, ended up on the flip.)
This really is a record full of swagger and poise. That two-tone blaring intro, loud more than anything, shouting “Hey! Listen to this, and listen to it now” such that the listener can’t refuse, striking up guitar, handclaps, drums, piano, all on the beat, great aching gaps left in the arrangement in between each beat… damn right HDH were taking notes, observing Smokey’s genius use of blank space, simultaneously de-cluttering the track and amplifying the band and vocals trusted to fill those spaces, both with notes and with presence. Without this record, there’s not only no My Guy, there’s no Where Did Our Love Go – it’s a quantum leap forward.
The lyrics are spectacularly daffy, the sort of thing a clever mastermind only makes his group do once lest the comedy schtick begin to grate. Instead, Smokey leaves things just teetering on the right side of comical, raising a little smile rather than the listener’s hackles; it’s sweetly and gently funny rather than pushy and annoying.
“We need a name that’s witty at first, but that seems less funny each time you hear it… How about the B-Sharps”?
- The Simpsons
You got a smile so bright / You know you could have been a candle / I’m holding you so tight / You know you could have been a handle / The way you swept me off my feet / You know you could have been a broom / The way you smell so sweet / You know you could have been some perfume…”
- The Temptations
Oh, it sounds great, though, doesn’t it? That “Weeeeeellll”, followed by great churning chunks of bass. The And I can teeeeeellllll….” followed by Eddie, flying solo and newly filled of confidence, grasping his magic feather: The way you do the things you do!, and the other Tempts’ rollicking The way you the things you do / The way you do the things you do… That coruscating sax break at 1:35, and that pounding, chiming piano adding an inexplicable touch of classy froideur to the rougher-edged jollity (something the early Contours were never lucky enough to be graced with). And… oh, and everything, really.
This is a record that gets better and better every time you listen to it, and it’s so pleased with itself – without ever tipping fatally into smarmy self-regard – that you can’t help but warm to it.
A new start for everyone involved, a major step forward for the Motown Sound, and a damned fine pop record in its own right. Super.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
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“Just Let Me Know”