Classics: The Temptations – Law Of The Land (Tamla Motown/Bellaphon)
Music used as a tool to express feelings, ideas, statements. A reality which has been for much in the progressive establishment of the American Black Music. With this in a country marked by segragation for ages. From Blues to Hip-Hop, with Soul Music makin’ no exception in the early 70’s, with artists such as Marvin Gaye, Timmy Thomas or War. The Temptations adding their name to the list with the magnetic ‘Law Of The Land’…
Heavily criticized by fans, not to mention by music journalists who eventually referred to The Temptations as “The Norman Whitfield Chorale Singers”, the 1973 released ‘Masterpiece’ album stands nevertheless as a deep (social) Soul manifesto from the group.
An album filled with essential jams such as its title track, ‘Ma’, ‘Plastic Man’ and ‘Law Of The Land’. Strange though as to how producer Norman Whitfield also recorded the two latter with The Undisputed Truth that same year.
Strange also as to how Motown decided to pass on giving it a single release Stateside, as opposed to the UK and Europe. Bellpahon in Germany giving it a 12″ release 8 years after along with ‘Plastic Man’ as its B-Side. Therefore making of it quite a good deal.
(*) ‘Law Of The Land’ is undoubtedly one of the most significant messages in the history of Soul. And in the meantime one of the most powerful songs by the likes of The Temptations.
(*) The phrase “law of the land” is a legal term, equivalent to the Latin “lex terrae”, or “legem terrae” in the accusative case. It refers to all of the laws in force within a country or region, including common law.
In the year 1215 this term was used in Magna Carta. Perhaps the most famous clause of Magna Carta states: “No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the “Law of the Land”” (* Wikipedia)
Contemporary Music may not have become what it is without Norman Whitfield‘s contribution. As a matter of fact, he might pretty well be the first producer ever who established a sound / an approach as a trademark…
Hailing from Harlem, NY, he and his family relocated to Detroit where he started working with Motown’s head Berry Gordy. Aged 19, he progressively established himself as in charge of the quality control department. A position which allowed him to determine which songs would or would not be released, prior to join the label’s in-house songwriting staff.
He would find his niche in the production though. When he came to collaborate with Marvin Gaye on the memorable ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ back in 1968. But even more when he took over Smokey Robinson‘s role as the main producer for The Temptations 2 years before.
From then on, he took the group to a brand new dimension. What he did was changing the nature of the songs, from love matters to the social issues of the time, such as war, poverty and politics. But also experimenting sound effects and production techniques. Eventually getting the group into a darker infectious sound blending psychedelic Rock and Funk. From this liaison which lasted until 1975, came gems such as ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ back in 1966. But also ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today)’. Not to mention the memorable ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’, ‘Plastic Man’ and ‘Law Of The Land’…
Whitfield parted way with The Temptations coz’ they disliked how he put more emphasis on the instrumentation instead of their vocals. And also because they wished he wrote more romantic ballads for them. This therefore led him to leave Motown and launch his own Whitfield Records imprint. From then, he convinced The Undisputed Truth to follow him. But also Junior Walker, and Rose Royce who were Edwin Starr‘s backing band while at Motown.
He most likely scored his biggest success ever with ‘Car Wash’ for the latter. A cut which won Whitfield a 1977 Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack Album. He soon after also composed the theme song for the 1977 motion picture ‘Which Way Is Up?’, performed by Stargard.
Among his biggest productions as well, the mellow ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ by Rose Royce. And also ‘Is It Love You’re after’. A jam which British producer Mark Moore sampled on ‘Theme From S-Express’ back in 1988.
Whifield underwent treatment for diabetes and other ailments at Los Angeles’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, in 2008. He fell into a coma, briefly improved, but sadly succumbed to diabetic complications on Sept. 16, 2008, aged 68.