Friday, July 27, 2012

40 Year Itch: Wherever He Laid His Hat

In 1971, The Temptations were in turmoil. They'd already lost David Ruffin even before entering their "Psychedelic Shack" period. Then, after singing lead on the chart topping "Just My Imagination ( Running Away With Me)" in 1971, Eddie Kendricks left. Paul Williams soon followed. The remaining Temps --who had made a name for themselves with smooth ballads ( "My Girl") and pop hits ( "Ain't Too Proud To Beg") had to carry on without their best known singers. 21-year old Damon Harris and Richard Street were brought in to fill the gaps. Tho' the slick harmonic singing days weren't gone forever, the young bloods did bring something special to the studio. They brought in the street.

It all culminated with the All Directions cut "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone", a 12 minute cover of an Undisputed Truth song that barely charted the year before. A seven minute version of "Papa" hit #1 in the pop charts and scored the Temptations three Grammy Awards. But the 12 minute version is the jam. For the first 4 and a half minutes "Papa" sounds like something Issac Hayes might have done. In fact it's hard to imagine a 12 minute Temptations song before Hayes recorded s 12 minute version of "Walk On By" and a nearly 19 minute version of "By The Time I Get To Phoenix" (on 1969's  Hot Buttered Soul). But again, those first 4 minutes are all played by The Funk Brothers and produced by Norman Whitfield. A thudding, simple bass line repeats itself over and over again behind some wah-wah guitar. The lyrics, by Barrett Strong, tell the story of a dead man who may have fathered some kids but never raised them.

All Directions, like its #1 Billboard charting predecessor Solid Rock, is out of print. And that's a shame. The album kicks off with another cover, Edwin Starr's "Funky Music Sho' Nuff Turns Me On". It sounds strange to these ears, half live and half studio produced.

"Run Charlie Run" follows with a song about white flight that features the unfortunate chant "The niggers are comin'". Otis Williams has said the band fought "tooth and nail" not to record either "Papa" or "Charlie". Let's just say you're more likely to hear the better of those two songs in a concert.

Side Two is softer. Mostly ballads. An Issac Hayes cover ( there he is again),  "Do Your Thing" is the highlight. Hayes's own version, on the Shaft soundtrack, was 19 and a half minutes long.

The success of "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" would lead the Temps to record more long soundtrack-like songs ( especially on Masterpiece) but even Otis says "Papa" was the last great Temptations tune. And to paraphrase a line from Animal House,  Otis is my man.

No comments:

Post a Comment