Friday, August 18, 2017

The Temptations – Plastic Man (Gordy)

Classics: The Temptations – Plastic Man (Gordy)

You have no idea as to how often I’ve been said that we, the Froggies (even though I’m half Belgian) had a penchant for intellectualizing things in the press. Mind you, I never felt like havin’ any probs with this referring to publications such as Les Cahiers du Cinéma or the defunct Actuel. But also Radio Nova or Arte, all synonymous to me with edutainment…

One could therefore see Psychedelia arriving in countless artforms in the second half of the 60’s. Most likely with the aim to transgress codes that had obviously shown their limits. And this, in a society which felt the need to go for drastic changes.

Jimi Henrix, but also Santana on their memorable ‘Abraxas’ album would, to many of us, be the first names coming to mind musicwise. Not to mention Norman Whitfield who brought The Temptations to some unsuspected level…
He put a straight end to their “sugar soul” period with Smokey Robinson for that. Eventually having fans directly complaining to the members of the band.

I can’t help nevertheless thinking that what Whitfield did was nothing but a prodigious work. Even though one could have the feeling that it was at times more of Norman Whitfield featuring The Temptations. But who the hell cares at the end judging by what this association has managed to come up with??? The 1973 released ‘Masterpiece’ album standing as a manifesto of Psychedlic (social) Soul with gems such as the title cut, ‘Ma’, ‘Law Of The Land’ and of course ‘Plastic Man’…

“Plastic Man, trying to get over, any way he can…” is pretty much illustrative of a US Black community in lack of landmarks. “You better stop your fantasizing. Start, boo boo boo boom to realizing that black is black. And white is white. Wrong is wrong, and right is right!” Whitfield bringing the lyrics to a stellar dimension over an infectious horn led syncopated groove…

Masterpiece, just as it says!!!

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 took over Smokey Robinson‘s role as the main producer for The Temptations in 1966.
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 classic ‘Is It Love That You’re after’ by Rose Royce. 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.

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