THE UNDISPUTED TRUTH-NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH.
The Undisputed Truth-Nothing But The Truth.
Label: Kent Soul.
By the time The Undisputed Truth released their eponymous debut album in July 1971, Norman Whitfield had spent the best part of nine years at Motown. He was one of the company’s top producers, and was the man who brought psychedelic soul to Motown in 1968.
Norman Whitfield experiment with psychedelic soul began in 1968, when The Temptations was recording their ninth studio album Cloud Nine. By then, Otis Williams of The Temptations had realised that the time had come for the group to update their sound. This came about after he had watched the progress of Sly and The Family Stone, and discussed the changes in soul music with his friend Kenneth Gamble. The two friends were won over by the funkier sound and multi-lead vocals. This was the future of soul and Otis Williams knew it was a case of The Temptations adapting their sound to stay relevant.
When The Temptations released their ninth album Cloud Nine on, February the ’17th’ 1969, it featured fusion of funk, soul and psychedelia. This had found favour with critics and record buyers. Cloud Nine reached number four on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US R&B charts. The second single from Cloud Nine was Runaway Child, Running Wild, which reached number six on the US Billboard 100 and number one on the US R&B charts. To top it off, Cloud Nine won The Temptations a Grammy Award. The Temptations’ decision to reinvent their sound was vindicated, and their psychedelic era began.
Seven months later, on September the ’23rd’ 1969, The Temptations returned with another album of psychedelic soul when they released their eleventh album Puzzle People. It was the followup to The Temptations Show which was released on July the ’10th’ 1969. Puzzle People was released to critical acclaim and reached number five on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US R&B charts. When I Can’t Get Next to You was released as the second single from Puzzle People, it topped both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts. The Temptations’ decision to embrace psychedelia was continuing to pay off.
On March the ‘6th’ 1970, The Temptations released their twelfth album Psychedelic Shack, where they fully embraced psychedelia. The Temptations also turned their back on the traditional Motown sound on what was their most psychedelic album. Psychedelic Shack was released to widespread critical acclaim and reached number nine on the US Billboard 200 and number one on the US R&B charts. This was the third consecutive number one album in the US R&B charts since The Temptations embraced psychedelia. Despite this, not everyone was happy.
Some of The Temptations’ fans weren’t impressed by the band’s new psychedelic soul sound. One man in particular felt the backlash…producer Normal Whitfield. Some of The Temptations’ fans felt that Normal Whitfield was using the band, as his own personal plaything, and that the band was taking part in what was essentially a musical experiment. These were ridiculous accusations, as Otis Williams had wanted to explore the new psychedelic soul sound. This didn’t matter to the complainants, who didn’t understand the new psychedelic soul sound. They preferred The Temptations older music and didn’t want the group to change their sound. Normal Whitfield was stung by the accusation and criticism from the vociferous fans of The Temptations.
So much so, that he decided to put together a new group which would allow him to continue to experiment with psychedelic soul.This new group was The Undisputed Truth, which featured lead singer Joe “Pep” Harris, while Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans contributed additional lead vocals and background vocals. The Undisputed Truth would release their eponymous debut album in July 1971, which is one of three albums that features on Kent Soul’s two CD set Nothing But The Truth. The Undisputed Truth is joined by Law Of The Land and Down To Earth on Nothing But The Truth. They were released between 1971 and 1973.
Sky’s The Limit.
Before The Undisputed Truth released their eponymous debut album, The Temptations released a new album of psychedelic soul Sky’s The Limit. It was a difficult album to record, with Paul Williams spending part of 1970 in hospital. Meanwhile, there were numerous arguments during the sessions with Eddie Kendricks arguing with Otis William or Melvin Franklin. By the autumn of 1970, Eddie Kendricks had left The Temptations.
His parting gift was Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), which topped the US Billboard 100 and US R&B charts. Sky’s The Limit was released to plaudits and praise on April the ‘22nd’ 1971, reaching number sixteen on the US Billboard 200 and number two on the US R&B charts. Three months later, Norman Whitfield’s new group The Undisputed Truth was about to release their eponymous debut album.
Before The Undisputed Truth.
Norman Whitfield had carefully chosen the three members of The Undisputed Truth, when he was putting together the new group. Each member of The Undisputed Truth was an experienced singer and had been part the Detroit music scene for many years.
Lead singer Joe “Pep” Harris’ career began in 1962, when he joined the newly formed Detroit soul trio The Fabulous Peps. For the next six years, The Fabulous Peps was a familiar face on the Detroit live scene, and are remembered for their energetic stage performances. The Fabulous Peps also recorded six singles for various labels between 1964 and 1967. However, none of the singles were successful and in 1968, The Fabulous Pep called time on their career.
After this, Joe “Pep” Harris embarked on a solo career, but soon, had joined another new band The Ohio Untouchables. They would later enjoy commercial success and critical acclaim as The Ohio Players. By then, Joe “Pep” Harris had joined Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans in The Undisputed Truth.
Just like Joe “Pep” Harris, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans were familiar faces on the Detroit music scene. They had been part of The Delicates during the sixties. However, in 1970, The Delicates split-up. Fortunately, singer Bobby Taylor was able to introduce Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans to Motown insiders.
Soon, the pair were adding backing vocals to various Motown recordings. This included Diana Ross’ number one single of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough in 1970. The same year, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans accompanied The Four Tops on their top ten hit single Still Water (Love). By then, people were starting to take notice of the two backing singers.
This included Norman Whitfield who had decided to put together a new group that would continue his psychedelic soul experiment. Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans joined Joe “Pep” Harris in The Undisputed Truth.
The Undisputed Truth.
With the lineup of his new group in place, work began on The Undisputed Truth’s eponymous debut album. Eventually, Norman Whitfield settled on eleven songs that were a mixture of cover versions and new songs. Among the familiar songs were California Soul, Aquarius, Holland-Dozier-Holland’s We’ve Got a Way Out Love and Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone. The rest of the songs were cowritten by Norman Whitfield.
Five of the songs were Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong compositions, including You Got The Love I Need, Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today), Smiling Faces Sometimes, Since I’ve Lost You and I Heard It Through The Grapevine. The other two tracks were the Norman Whitfield and Rodger Penzabene composition Save My Love For A Rainy Day, and Ain’t No Sunshine Since You’ve Been Gone which was written by Norman Whitfield, Cornelius Grant and Simon May. These songs were recorded by The Undisputed Truth in Detroit with Motown’s house band.
Norman Whitfield took charge of production as the sessions began in September 1970. Over the next two months, The Undisputed Truth, fused elements of soul, funk and psychedelia. The result was an album where The Undisputed Truth married psychedelic soul with Motown’s traditional sound. Given Norman Whitfield’s fondness for psychedelic soul, this might seem a strange decision. However, Norman Whitfield was a realist.
He had watched The Temptations’ single Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World) fail to trouble the top thirty in the US Billboard 100. This was the first time The Temptation had released a single that didn’t reach the top thirty in the US Billboard 100. While the Sky’s The Limit sold well, it didn’t sell in the same quantities as their three previous psychedelic albums. Maybe psychedelic soul was no longer as popular? If that was the case, it made sense that The Undisputed Truth’s eponymous debut album wasn’t purely an album of psychedelic soul.
When The Undisputed Truth was released in July 1971, it was to critical acclaim. Critics were won over by an album that successfully fused Motown’s old and new sounds. The result was music that was funky, soulful and lysergic as The Undisputed Truth successfully combined the traditional Motown sound was psychedelic soul. One of the best examples of this was You Got The Love I Need, where Norman Whitfield had The Undisputed Truth add their vocal to a backing track recorded by The Funk Brothers in 1965. One of the highlights of The Undisputed Truth was Smiling Faces Sometimes which features one of Norman Whitfield’s best productions on the album. It was a future psychedelic soul classic.
By then, The Undisputed Truth had already released their debut single Save My Love For A Rainy Day. It entered the US R&B charts as The Undisputed Truth began recording the followup single Smiling Faces Sometimes. Sadly, Save My Love For A Rainy Day stalled at forty-three on the US R&B charts. This was a disappointing start forThe Undisputed Truth’s recording career.
When The Undisputed Truth released Smiling Faces Sometimes on May ‘13th’ 1971 it reached number three on the US Billboard 100 and number two on the US R&B charts. This more than made up for the disappointing chart performance of Save My Love For A Rainy Day.
Buoyed by the success of Smiling Faces Sometimes The Undisputed Truth released their eponymous debut album two months later in July 1971. It reached forty-three on the US Billboard 200 and number seven on the US R&B charts. This to some extent vindicated Norman Whitfield’s decision to combine the traditional Motown sound with psychedelic soul. However, what if Norman Whitfield had allowed The Undisputed Truth to fully embrace psychedelia and record their equivalent to Psychedelic Shack? Would they have enjoyed a much more successful album?
Face To Face With The Truth.
Just six months after releasing their eponymous debut album, The Undisputed Truth returned with their sophomore album Face To Face With The Truth in January 1972. It featured seven songs produced by Norman Whitfield.
For Face To Face With The Truth the Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong songwriting partnership provided four of the seven songs. This included You Make Your Own Heaven and Hell Right Here On Earth, What Is It?, the Medley: Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)/Friendship Train, plus Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are) and Don’t Let Him Take Your Love From Me. They were joined by Take Me In Your Arms and Love Me and Marvin Gaye, Al Cleveland and Renaldo Benson’s soul classic What’s Going On? These songs were recorded in Detroit and became Face To Face With The Truth.
Just like on their eponymous debut album, Norman Whitfield took charge of production on Face To Face With The Truth. With his guidance, The Undisputed Truth continued to fuse soul, funk and psychedelia on what was a quite different album to their debut. The songs were much longer than on The Undisputed Truth, and allowed familiar songs were reinvented and headed in new directions.
That was the case throughout Face To Face With The Truth where the music was deeply soulful, funky and lysergic as The Undisputed Truth completed another ambitious album of psychedelic soul. It was scheduled for release in January 1972
Little did The Undisputed Truth know that Face To Face With The Truth wasn’t the only album of psychedelic soul produced by Norman Whitfield that was due to be released during January 1972. The Undisputed Truth were going up against The Temptations, who would release Solid Rock on the ‘11th’ of January 1972, It was well received by critics, and reached twenty-four in the US Billboard 200 and number one in the US R&B charts. This set the bar high for the
Before that, You Make Your Own Heaven and Hell Right Here On Earth was released as the lead single in December 1971. It stalled at seventy-two in the US Billboard 200 and twenty-four in the US R&B charts. This was disappointing for The Undisputed Truth.
Face To Face With The Truth was released to plaudits and praise in January 1972. Critics were impressed by the longer tracks that offered an opportunity for The Undisputed Truth to reinvent the what were mostly familiar songs. However, Face To Face With The Truth reached just 116 in the US Billboard 200 and sixteen in the US R&B charts. Adding to The Undisputed Truth’s woes and disappointment was the commercial failure of the second single What It Is? It reached seventy-one in the US Billboard 200 and thirty-five in the US R&B charts. Despite the quality of music on Face To Face With The Truth, it had failed to find an audience.
Law Of The Land.
After the disappointment of Face To Face With The Truth, Norman Whitfield decided to change tack for The Undisputed Truth’s third album Law Of The Land. Gone were the longer tracks that featured on Face To Face With The Truth. They were replaced by shorter songs, which were a mixture of cover versions and songs penned by Norman Whitfield.
Among the songs Norman Whitfield chose, were his own compositions Law of the Land and Mama I Gotta Brand New Thing (Don’t Say No). They were joined by the Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong compositions Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone and Just My Imagination. There were eight other cover versions, including Killing Me Softly With His Song, Dave Mason’s Feelin’ Alright, Al Green and Mabon Hodges’ Love and Happiness, Lennon and McCartney’s With A Little Help From My Friends and Hal Davis and Burt Bacharach’s Walk On Die. These were some of the tracks that The Undisputed Truth recorded for Law Of The Land.
When recording of Law Of The Land began, producer Norman Whitfield and The Undisputed Truth were joined by Motown’s house band The Funk Brothers. By then, Norman Whitfield must have known that this was the most important session of The Undisputed Truth’s career. They were desperately in need of a successful album. This was make or break for the band.
Prior to the release of Law Of The Land was released in 1973, the critics had their say on The Undisputed Truth’s third album. It was another album where funk, soul and psychedelic soul were combined by The Undisputed Truth.
Law Of The Land opened with the title-track where psychedelic soul was fused with funk and disco to create a dance-floor friendly hidden gem. It set the bar high, before The Undisputed Truth switch between ballads and uptempo tracks. Among the best of the uptempo song were the funky, soulful takes on Mama I Gotta Brand New Thing (Don’t Say No) and Feelin’ Alright? The oft-covered With A Little Help From My Friends then head sin the direction of psychedelic soul. Some of the best songs were ballads, including beautiful, heartfelt covers of Killing Me Softly With His Song and Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me). Love And Happiness saw Joe “Pep” Harris take charge of the lead vocal as harmonies and horns accompany him as he delivers an impassioned vocal. It’s a similar case on If I Die, where Joe “Pep” Harris delivers a soul-baring vocal. Closing the album was a rueful cover of Walk On By. This would prove somewhat ironic.
Girl, You’re Alright was chosen as the lead single from and released in the second half of 1972. It stalled at forty-three in the US R&B charts. Later in 1972, Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone was released as a single and reached sixty-three in the US Billboard 100 and twenty-four in the US R&B charts. Maybe things were looking up for The Undisputed Truth as 1973 dawned?
Sadly, it wasn’t to be. When Law Of The Land was released in 1973 it stalled at forty-three in the US R&B charts. When the album was released Law Of The Land reached just 191 in the US Billboard 200 and fifty-two in the US R&B charts. The fourth and final album released from Law Of The Land was Mama I Gotta Brand New Thing (Don’t Say No) which reached just forty-six in the US R&B charts. For two members of The Undisputed Truth this was the end of the road.
Founding members Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans left The Undisputed Truth shortly after the release of Law Of The Land. This left just Joe “Pep” Harris. Soon, he was joined by Virginia “V” McDonald, Tyrone “Big Ty” Douglas, Tyrone “Lil Ty” Barkeley and Calvin “Dhaak” Stephenson who had all been members of The Magictones, who were a Detroit soul group. This was the start of a new era for The Undisputed Truth.
Down To Earth.
With their new lineup in place, The Undisputed Truth began honing their sound. Norman Whitfield’s psychedelic soul group was now a quintet, rather than a trio. This wasn’t the only change that became apparent when The Undisputed Truth recorded their fourth album Down To Earth.
For Down To Earth seven new songs were chosen by Norman Whitfield. This included the Norman Whitfield compositions Help Yourself, Big John Is My Name and I’m A Fool For You. They were joined by covers of Errol Brown and Tony Wilson’s Brother Louie, Bob Hilliard and Mort Garson’s Our Day Will Come and James Pankow’s Just You ‘n’ Me which had been written for AOR group Chicago’s 1973 album Chicago VI. The lead vocals on five of these tracks were sung by Joe “Pep” Harris and Virginia “V” McDonald. Tyrone Barkley makes his Undisputed Truth debut on Just You ‘N’ Me which was penned by Eddie Kendricks, Eddie Holland and Norman Whitfield. These seven tracks were augmented by three songs from The Undisputed Truth’s past.
For the three remaining tracks on Down To Earth, Norman Whitfield decided to add three songs from The Undisputed Truth’s first three album. This included Love and Happiness, Law Of The Land and Save My Love For A Rainy Day. This mixture of the new and old became The Undisputed Truth’s fourth album Down To Earth.
Just like their three previous albums, Down To Earth saw The Undisputed Truth switching between, and fusing soul, funk and psychedelic soul. There’s even a move towards disco on a couple of tracks, while some of the harmonies are best described as gospel-tinged.
Help Yourself opens the album and is a funky, soulful song that sometimes sounds as if it’s been inspired by The Jacksons. Big John Is My Name is and funky and soulful song is and occasionally references The Temptations. Norman Whitfield then deploys strings and horns on the ballad Brother Louie. It gives way to I’m A Fool For You which marries funk, soul and disco on this dance-floor friendly song. It’s followed by two ballads, Our Day Will Come which features a heartfelt vocal. Just You ‘N’ Me is the second ballad and is one of the finest moments from The Undisputed Truth Mk II. The last of the new songs was The Girl’s Alright With Me which features Tyrone Barkley’s soulful lead on this catchy track. This left just the trio of songs from the original lineup of The Undisputed Truth. By the closing notes of Save My Love For A Rainy Day, which closed Down To Earth critics were comparing the original and new lineup of The Undisputed Truth.
While Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans were a huge loss, their replacements were all experienced vocalists. The Undisputed Truth had reinvented themselves as a quintet on Down To Earth, which was found favour with critics. The big question was what would record buyers think of Down To Earth?
When Down To Earth was released in 1974, it failed to chart in the US Billboard 200 and reached just thirty-five in the US R&B charts. The lead single Help Yourself reached a lowly sixty-three in the US Billboard 100 , but reached nineteen in the US R&B charts. I’m A Fool For You then reached just thirty-five in the US R&B charts later in 1974. For thew new lineup of The Undisputed Truth this wasn’t the best start to their career.
For some it was too early to judge whether the new lineup of The Undisputed Truth could transform the group’s fortunes. Their debut album was their most successful, and since then, they had struggled to recapture that form. That was despite Face To Face With The Truth and Law Of The Land featuring some the best music that The Undisputed Truth would record.
Their finest album was their eponymous debut album, which featured Save My Love For A Rainy Day and Smiling Faces Sometimes. It’s the first of the three albums that featured on Nothing But The Truth which is a two CD set released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. However, Face To Face With The Truth doesn’t feature on Nothing But The Truth. The Undisputed Truth’s third album, Law Of The Land is a welcome addition to Nothing But The Truth. It’s one of The Undisputed Truth’s most underrated albums. One can only wonder what would’ve happened if the original lineup had stayed together? Would they have reached the same heights as their debut album?
The new lineup of The Undisputed Truth made their debut on seven of the ten songs on Down To Earth. By then, The Undisputed Truth were starting to toy with disco. However, it was too early for many critics to judge the new lineup of The Undisputed Truth. They wanted to hear a complete album from The Undisputed Truth Mk II. Then they would make their mind up. However, by then, record buyers had spoken.
Going by sales, it seemed that they preferred the original lineup of Normal Whitfield’s The Undisputed Truth. However, Motown stood by The Undisputed Truth who would release another two albums for their Gordy imprint including 1975s Cosmic Truth which reached 186 in the US Billboard 200 and forty-two in the US R&B charts. It was followed by The Undisputed Truth’s sixth album Higher Than High, which reached 173 in the US Billboard 200 and fifty-two in the US R&B charts. Higher Than High was the last album he Undisputed Truth released for Gordy Records.
After this, The Undisputed Truth signed to Norman Whitfield’s Whitfield Records, and they release two more albums. Method To the Madness reached sixty-six in the US Billboard 200 and nineteen in the US R&B charts. It looked as if The Undisputed Truth’s fortunes were changing. Alas, it was a false dawn, and when The Undisputed Truth released Smokin’ in 1979 it never came close to troubling the charts. This was end of the line for The Undisputed Truth. They called time on their career after eight albums.
These albums were all produced by Norman Whitfield who pioneered the psychedelic soul with The Temptations. He tried to do this again with The Undisputed Truth, but never reached the same heights. However, he recorded the psychedelic soul classic Smiling Faces Sometimes and a number of hidden gems including Save My Love For A Rainy Day which showcases the considerable talents of The Undisputed Truth. So do the three albums and bonus tracks on Nothing But The Truth, which is a reminder of Norman Whitfield’s other psychedelic soul group…The Undisputed Truth.
The Undisputed Truth-Nothing But The Truth.