The Class of 1970: ‘Psychedelic Shack’ by The Temptations
After spending five years at the top of the soul charts with their superbly crafted music, it was time for a seismic shift for The Temptations. The group, led by David Ruffin, had produced ten albums and more than two dozen singles from 1962 to 1968 on the Gordy label, one of the Motown brands. Things seemed to be running smoothly, but…
The world was changing, and The Temptations were about to change with it. Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin had just parted company with Ruffin, and Otis Williams sought out Motown producer Norman Whitfield, looking to make the group’s music more relevant in those turbulent times. What emerged first was a smash single called “Cloud Nine” with new lead singer Dennis Edwards, formerly of The Contours. His gritty voice was perfect for that song.
What followed was Cloud Nine (1969), the first Temptations album produced by Whitfield in a string of eight excellent releases. It also introduced the first “long song,” “Runaway Child Running Wild,” which clocked in at nine minutes, unheard of during the era of the three-minute single (although that too was changing). Puzzle People would follow later that year. [Read more about those long songs here: The Temptations’ Masterpieces.]
Early in 1970, a single hit the radio that had the exact same opening as the previous year’s number one song “I Can’t Get Next to You” after somebody knocks on a door. Then it veered off into a house party, as The Temptations sang “Psychedelic Shack.” That would turn out to be the title of the band’s next album, recorded November 1969 to February 1970, would be released on March 6, 1970, Gordy GS 947. All songs are credited to Whitfield and Barrett Strong. The music is courtesy of the legendary Funk Brothers, the musicians who made Hitsville USA explode.
“Psychedelic Shack” (3:53) is full of Edwards, lucious harmonies, Kendricks’ gorgeous falsetto, wah-wah guitars, pulsating percussion, and each member singing lead at some point.
By contrast, “You Make Your Own Heaven and Hell Right Here on Earth” (2:46) opened with strings and every member contributing. Clearly, The Temptations had moved past the Summer of Love and into the real world that their fans inhabited.
The masterpiece here is actually a pair of songs: “Hum Along and Dance (3:54) > Take a Stroll Through Your Mind” (8:35). Eddie Kendricks sings over the mellow groove:
Ain’t no words to this song
You just dance and hum along
Melvin Franklin sings it, and it gets trippy as they all take turns. For the last 25 seconds of “Hum Along and Dance,” the soft chorus repeats:
Come on, man, take a Drag
Don’t be scared, it ain’t gonna hurt
Suddenly, all that stops as the bass takes a walk, and Kendricks starts the madness with, “One drag… is all it took… now I’m hooked,” and eventually “Take a stroll through your mind, you’ll be surprised at what you might find.” And for the next four minutes, there are odd lyrics over the stripped-down hipster bass and congas, truly cool. Guitars finally enter, and after a minute the drums fade up in the mix, Edwards killing on the vocals. The electric piano slips in, and then the drums really punch up the sound until the last 30 seconds, with Kendricks’ lone voice singing over the bass: “Take a stroll through your mind, you’ll be surprised at what you might find.”
“It’s Summer” (2:36) is old-school Tempts, spoken passages by Franklin separated by the simple chorus. This was also issued as a single. It was the habit at Motown to have several artists cover the same song, the best example being “I Heard It Through the Grapevine, first recorded by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, then by Gladys Knight and the Pips, who had a hit with it before Marvin Gaye stepped in. “It’s Summer” was recorded by Gladys Knight and the Pips in 1969.
“War” (3:12) was another such example. The Temptations recorded it first, but Whitfield was convinced to re-record it, this time with Edwin Starr, who had a smash hit. There are those who prefer the former version. It has a military beat to it, with Paul Williams and Edwards singing lead and Franklin doing the military marching count. This was a superb song protesting the Vietnam War, both versions.
Kendricks is the lead singer on “You Need Love Like I Do (Don’t You)” (4:02), a perfect bridge between the old Temps and the new Temps. The horns and band are blowing red hot on this updated old theme. Guitars and piano are dynamite. This one was a hit single for… Gladys Knight and the Pips, of course. Whitfield produced them as well.
The album closes with yet another Gladys Knight tune from Nitty Gritty, “Friendship Train” (7:53). (Turnabout is fair play; Gladys and the Pips covered two Temptations songs on that album!) The band is pulsating again, guitars killing. Over the course of eight minutes, everybody sings lead. A portion of the lyrics demonstrates the message:
No, no, no, it don’t matter what you look like
People or who you are
If your heart is in the right place
Talking about the right place
You’re welcome on the board now
This train stands for justice
This train stands for freedom
This train stands for harmony and peace
This train stands for love, love
The Temptations would go on to release five more great records following Psychedelic Shack:
1971 Sky’s the Limit
1972 Solid Rock
1972 All Directions
The double-disk CD Psychedelic Soul is a great place to dive into this period of The Temptations’ recording career 1969-1974.