Album: The Temptations Sing Smokey
. . .
The first thing you hear on “My Girl” — a song that features a quite a few firsts — is the steady rolling bassline of Funk Brother James Jamerson, who was unsung at the time, but in retrospect was clearly one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.
Funk Brother Benny Benjamin joins Jamerson with a quick roll, setting the up immortal opening couplet of “My Girl,” which features Funk Brother Robert White playing a spidery hook underneath David Ruffin’s utterly sublime rendition of Smokey Robinson’s words. Everybody sing!
I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day
When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May
And with both the Paul Riser arranged horns and one of the other Temptations harmonizing, Ruffin edges us to the the chorus
I guess you’d say
What can make me feel this way?
But of course you what the answer is, what it has to be, the fantastic triple-level vocal arrangement on the chorus: Ruffin singing “my girl,” Paul Williams singing “my girl,” Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin & Otis Williams singing “my girl,” Ruffin following that with “talking bout my girl,” and as the band stops for second, everybody on a clipped “my girl.”
I’ve dropped, nearly a dozen names in the past couple of paragraphs, and here’s the thing: every single one of these people were playing at the very top of their games, especially Ruffin, who took his first lead vocal on a Temptations single and just fucking knocked out of the park. Of course, “My Girl” was basically written by Smokey Robinson (and fellow Miracle Ronnie White) for David Ruffin to sing, even though it was both about Smokey’s wife and an answer song to Mary Wells’ massive #1 single, “My Guy.”
Which, of course, was also written by Smokey Robinson, who was also responsible for what was probably an excessive amount of strings and horns, and yet the conversation the strings have with the Temptations on the bridge — everybody singing “Hey hey hey,” which Otis Redding definitely stole for “Respect”, not that “hey hey hey” was an original lyric — is utterly sublime, as are all the horn stabs during the round-robin outro which utterly seals the deal.
“My Girl” was released just before Christmas, 1964, and became the Temptations first song to top the Billboard Hot 100, as well as their first song to top the Hot 100 at the same time it was topping the R&B charts. Both things would happen again. In the U.K., the original single stalled out at #43, but the British redeemed themselves in 1991 when a reissue associated with the Macauly Culkin / Anna Chulmsky film of the same name made it to #2.
And while it remains perhaps their signature song — it has over three-quarters of a billion plays on Spotify, five times more than the next song — as far as I’m concerned, it just the Temptations getting into gear, as we’ll see in the next couple of weeks.
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