Album: Puzzle People
. . .
But of course, crazed genius producer Norman Whitfield & lyricist Barrett Strong weren’t going to just crank out socially-conscious psychedelic soul jams for the Temptations to sing over. That would be exhausting. Instead, they also cranked out songs like “I Can’t Get Next to You,” which opens with the Temptations whooping it up in the studio before Dennis Edwards commands everybody to “hold hold it, listen,” whereupon there’s a bluesy piano, a horn fanfare, and then over some crazy hard funk, we hear this:
I can turn the greyest sky blue
I can make it rain whenever I want it to
Oh, I can build a castle from a single grain of sand
I can make a ship sail high on dry land
Instead of a single vocalist, the Temptations are having a high old time trading off vocalists, including the always powerful juxtaposition of Melvin Williams’ deep bass and Eddie Kendricks falsetto, all of which lead into a chorus about the futility of having all of the power described in the verses, if they can’t achieve the goal of the chorus: fucking the objects of their desire.
But my life is incomplete, and I’m so blue
‘Cause I can’t get next to you (I can’t get next to you, babe)
Next to you (I can’t get next to you)
I just can’t get next you (I can’t get next to you, babe)
(I can’t get next to you)
That “I Can’t Get Next to You” was just the latest spin on one of the hoariest tropes ever didn’t matter with all of the vocal trade-offs, instruments bouncing in and out of the mix, stops and starts, drum breaks, gospel exhortations and every other single thing it offered. It was just too much damn fun on every level, especially every single time they all chanted “I can’t get next to you.” It wasn’t quite psychedelic soul, but it wasn’t not quite psychedelic soul either, and I’m going to forever give it up to any song that fucks this hard with grammar just to get a rhyme.
Unhappy am I with all the powers I possess
‘Cause, girl, you’re the key to my happiness
And the world responded: “I Can’t Get Next to You” was a massive massive hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, the first of their singles to do that since “My Girl” way back in 1966, and remains of their most-loved songs.
“I Can’t Get Next to You”
“I Can’t Get To You” Live on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1969
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