THE TEMPTATIONS-PSYCHEDELIC SHACK.

THE TEMPTATIONS-PSYCHEDELIC SHACK.

When people think of The Temptations music, they think of singles like My Girl, People Get Ready and Ain’t To Proud To Beg, their early songs, released on the Motown label. This was among some of the greatest music Motown ever released, it truly was sweet soul music. However, there was much more to The Temptations music than this. By autumn 1968, and inspired by Sly and the Family Stone, The Temptations entered their psychedelic period. Many people are unaware of this period in the group’s career, and are astounded that over a two year period, and four albums, The Temptations mixed Motown with rock and psychedelia, resulting in albums where the sound was harder, and very different to their traditional sound. On the album, are hard, rocky guitars and multi-tracked drums, with sampled sound effects courtesy of synthesizers. Even the vocals, which you’d have thought sacrosanct, were transformed, via stereo-shifting. 

Psychedelic Shack was the final album, by what was, the third version of the group. Whilst the album was being recorded, Paul Williams was suffering from sickle-cell disease and problems caused by addiction to alcohol over a a five year period. This meant that sometimes, he wouldn’t be able to record his vocals with Richard Street, lead singer with The Monitors, a friend of Otis Williams taking his place. As if this wasn’t bad enough, Eddie Kedricks was becoming annoyed at the way their label Motown were treating them, and there was some bad feeling between Eddie and Melvin Franklin and Paul Williams. This contributed to Eddie leaving the group in early 1971. Another thing frustrating Eddie was how little creative control the group had over their music. The only thing Norman Whitfield allowed the band creative control over, was Eddie being allowed to arrange some of the vocal harmonies on the album. Everything else was Norman Whitfield’s responsibility. He had total creative control on Psychedelic Shack. For four months, between November 1969 and February 1970, Whitfield and The Temptations worked hard, recording eight tracks. The big question however, was how would The Temptations’ fans respond to the album.

March 1970, saw Psychedelic Shack released, with the album reaching number one in the US R&B Charts, where it stayed for four weeks. Meanwhile, the album reached number nine in the US Billboard Pop Charts. Unlike today, only one single was released from the album. This was Psychedelic Shack, which reached number two in the US R&B Charts and number seven in the US R&B Charts. Psychedelic Shack marked the end of The Temptations’ psychedelic period. It was a huge commercial success, and critically acclaimed album, but just how good an album is it? Has it stood the test of time well? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

Psychedelic Shack opens with the title track, which has an unusual opening, with a door being knocked, the footsteps of someone who has strayed into unfamiliar territory, finds a record player, and upon putting the needle on the record, is greeted with the familiar strains of The Temptations number one single, I Can’t Get Next To You. Quickly, this segues into the opening bars of Psychedelic Shack, when straight away, you realise that this is very different to their previous work. From the start, guitars, rhythm section and vocals pan backwards and forwards. One minute the music moves from left to right, the next, right to left. Guitars are hard and rocky, but sometimes funky with a wah-wah sound, while drums and percussion are loud and prominent. During the track, each of The Temptations get an opportunity to sing lead vocal. The range in styles from Dennis Edwards’ tenor, Eddie Kendrick tenor/ falsetto, Paul and Otis Williams’ tenor baritone to Melvin Franklin’s bass, make this an intriguing, but still soulful, mixture of styles and sounds. Combined with an arrangement that’s a fast-paced and amazing combination, of rock, psychedelia, funk and soul, that demonstrate a very different side to The Temptations, where they create one of the earliest examples of sampling used on a track. 

You Make Your Own Heaven and Hell Right Here On Earth sounds like something you’d read in a book full of cod psychology, that tells you that with positive thinking, you can change your life. However, it’s not, it’s the second track on the album, and is a song with a message. The Temptations’ message is that everyone is responsible for their own fate, and when they do right or wrong, it’s their choice. As if trying to grab the listener’s attention, dramatic, stirring strings sweep in as the track opens, creating an impressive sound. That’s even before everyone except Otis Williams, gets a chance to sing the lead vocal. The rhythm section and guitars, combine with synths, adding to an already dramatic sound, while the vocals are full of emotion and passion, as they deliver their message. This they do brilliantly, and together with an arrangement that’s a pacey combination of string laden funk and soul, and is an excellent track. Incidentally, in 1971, the track was covered by The Undisputed Truth, group Norman Whitfield had mentored. 

Unlike the two previous tracks, Hum Along and Dance is a track without lyrics. It’s a track that demonstrates Norman Whitfield’s move towards the instrumentation, arrangement and production, instead of the previous reliance on vocalists. This however, didn’t go down well with The Temptations. At the start of the track, the listener is told that there “ain’t no words to the song, you just dance and hum along,” while guitars and the rhythm section combine. Thereafter, it’s a track where the group scat and improvise while an arrangement full of dramatic peaks unfolds. There’s a dynamism about the track, with drums, bass and guitars a mixture of shrieking and soulful, passionate and powerful vocals combining in dramatic bursts. After that, things slow down, becoming quieter, before again, heading towards a dramatic explosion of funk drenched music. Here, there are similarities with Sly and the Family Stone’s music, which was hugely influential to The Temptations new sound. This is a track of highs and lows. Among the highs are an arrangement full of drama, funky rhythms and a variety of vocals styles. The low is that producer Norman Whitfield never utilized the group’s skill much more on this track, or used them in a different way. 

Take A Stroll Thru Your Mind sees the group sing about a subject that has long been a favorite of songwriters, marijuana. The track is almost joined to the previous track,  but unlike the previous track, we see The Temptations display their vocal talents more fully, on a track that mixes psychedelia with blues. Here, The Temptations sing an ode to marijuana usage, which back then, was seen as a way to open up your mind, with the attendant dangers not yet having been discovered. An epic track, eight and a half minute long, begins with a dark and moody bass line accompanying an atmospheric vocal, which pans left to right, before drums enter the track. The arrangement has a suitably subtle arrangement backing the vocal. Later, the rest of the group sing tight vocal harmonies, with just a touch of echo affecting them. It’s only after four minutes does a screaming, soaring, guitar solo enter, accompanying some oddball vocal. Keyboards and rhythm section, join the guitars in a bluesy jam, tinged with funk. Still, the bass is at the front of the track, while behind it, blues and funk combine. By the end of the track, it has grown on me. The phrase slow burner, seems designed for this track. It takes a few listens to get into it, with the track taking a while to get going. Like several tracks on the album, it grows on you, and after a while, like me, you’ll grow to really like this track.

It’s Summer was the only ballad on Psychedelic Shack, and is a song about the beauty and positivity of summer, the things that are still to happen, the beauty and wonderment that’s still to unfold. Here, Melvin Franklin recites the lyrics while one of the best arrangement reveals itself. Strings, lush and gentle, sweep behind guitars, rhythm section and percussion, providing a backdrop for Melvin’s recital of the lyrics. Meanwhile, the rest of the group sing gentle, tight vocal harmonies. This track is one of contrasts. The deep bass of Melvin’s spoken vocal, contrasts with the lush arrangement and beautiful, sweet backing vocals. This works here, and is a good track. Personally, the track would’ve sounded better if it had been sung by the group, or another member of the band. Later, on their Solid Rock album, the group rerecorded the album, releasing it as a single.

One of the tracks that will be familiar to most people is War, a track made famous by Edwin Star. Here Paul Williams and Dennis Edwards, sing the anti-Vietnam war song. What I’ve always loved about this track is how they tackle the futility of war head on, with the line “war, what is it good for, absolutely nothing.” The track starts dramatically, with drums playing, and the group adding backing vocals, before the lead vocal enters. Soaring, chiming and screaming guitars, loud dynamic drums and a fast paced bass, drive the track along. Throughout the track, arrangement rises and falls, waves of drama unfolding against the backdrop of marching. From start to finish, the vocal is delivered emotively, a mixture of anger and passion. Anger at the lives wasted, passion that this waste of lives must stop. Both the vocal and the arrangement bring the track to life, easily making this the best track on the album. As anti-war songs go, this is one of the best, although I much prefer Edwin Starr’s version. It to me, is the definitive version of War.

The final two songs on Psychedelic Shack, You Need To Love Like I Do (Don’t You) and Friendship Train are songs that people would normally associate with Gladys Night and the Pips. Both groups recorded their versions of You Need To Love Like I Do (Don’t You) at the same time, with Gladys Night and the Pips’ version being released as a single. Eddie Kedricks sings the lead vocal on a track that opens with rhythm section, percussion, synths, guitars and horns combining, to produce an arrangement that’s dramatic and laden in funk. Here, the tempo is quick, the sound funky, with a driving rhythm section, chiming guitars, blazing horns and tight soulful vocals backing Eddie’s brilliant vocal. He delivers the lyrics with passion and emotion, accompanied by soaring, screaming guitars, while the rhythm section up their game, driving the song along ably assisted by horns. Together, they make this another of the album’s highlights. This is thanks to one of the best arrangements on the album, accompanying an outstanding vocal. 

Psychedelic Shack closes with Friendship Train a track that opens with bursts of dark dramatic horns, moody bass and percussion before Dennis Edwards vocal enters. It’s a mixture of drama and joyousness, made all the better by the soulful backing vocals contributed by the rest of the group. Dennis’ message is one of positivity, to make friends, get along and get onboard the Friendship Train. Matching his vocal is an arrangement that’s, fast and funky, a melting pot of sounds and styles. This comprises hard rocky guitars, that head into funky territory, a lovely wah-wah sound emerging, accompanied by blazing, dramatic horns, fast pounding drums, funk laden bass and plentiful percussion. Together, it’s a potent and dramatic, yet funky combination, that’s the perfect way to end the album. It’s a song with an important message, one that’s still important and relevant today, as it was in 1970. Dennis Edwards’ rendition of the lyrics is thoughtful, full of emotion and drama. Combined with an arrangement that’s a fusion of funk, soul and rock, it’s one of the best tracks on the album. It seemed that The Temptations kept two great songs to end the this album, ones that you normally associate with Gladys Night and the Pips.

It’s many years since I first heard Psychedelic Shack, and it was an album that I had to listen to a few times before I really started to enjoy the album. It was so different to The Temptations earlier work, and on the album so much was going on. Since then, I’ve heard the album many times and always enjoy listening to it. If I put this on and the person hasn’t heard the album before, they usually don’t believe it’s The Temptations. Only when you show them the album cover are they convinced. On this album, The Temptations had drawn inspiration from Sly and the Family Stone, who was the master at fusing rock, soul, funk and psychedelia. With Norman Whitfield’s production skills, The Temptations reinvented themselves, and in the process, had an album that was a huge commercial success. Of the eight tracks, most are really good, with Hum Along and Dance a track where the group’s talents weren’t utilized fully and It’s Summer a good enough track, but the spoken recital of the lyrics not quite working for me. It was later rerecorded on the Solid Rock album, and released as a single. These two criticisms are just minor points, and a matter of taste. Apart from that, it’s a fine album, one that demonstrates a very different side of The Temptations, which showed just how far they’d come in just five years. Psychedelic Shack was a long way from their first three hits My Girl, Get Ready and Ain’t Too Proud To Beg. Standout Tracks: You Make Your Own Heaven and Hell Right Here On Earth, War, You Need To Love Like I Do (Don’t You) and Friendship Train.

THE TEMPTATIONS-PSYCHEDELIC SHACK.

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