Forgotten series: The Temptations – Puzzle People (1969)

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Seemingly every musician in the late ’60s was cruising on psychedelic control, or at least tampering with the genre. But not the Motown artists. Berry Gordy, president of the mighty Detroit, Michigan-based imprint, preferred to keep his acts locked in a comfort zone, producing the same classy soul-soaked pop they had been experiencing universal success with for several years.

The Temptations, however, were eager to emerge from the cocoon and finally broke the ice with a pair of great singles, “Cloud Nine” and “Runaway Child Running Wild” that were just as daring as anything the heavy rock bands of the day were laying down.

Topping the list as one of the best albums imaginable, no matter what form of music we’re referring to, Puzzle People (Gordy Records) views the Temptations not only adopting contemporary visions with a natural flair, but enriching such accessories with their own brilliant ideas. A smartly dappled homogenization of styles penetrate the environment, resulting in a superb set of songs promoting a diverse display of moods and feelings.

As noted, Sir Gordy’s fear of commercial loss was all for naught when the Temptations dropped the gloss and polish in favor of a more progressive stance. The applause continued with the anti-materialism missives of the savage funk rock of “Don’t Let The Joneses Get You Down” and the equally electrifying fury of “I Can’t Get Next To You,” which hit No. 20 and No. 1 on the national charts respectively. Both these tunes are included on this album.

Splattered with wild and wicked jams, engaging sound effects and rounds of reverb, Puzzle People quivers and quakes to a storming collision of hard-edged soul, blistering funk fumes and acid-baked artiness. The harmonies are bold, brash and breathtaking, and the songs are inventively structured and delivered with hearty passion. Stabbing guitar licks, grinding keyboards and punishing rhythms additionally sweep the floor. Always an ace group, the Temptations are at the peak of their powers here, making it obvious they’re enjoying each moment of the ride.

Lengthy tracks like “Slave” and “Message From A Black Man” roll, wind and ripple on with potency, while a fuzzed-out cover of “It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers, along with interesting renditions of Roger Miller’s “Little Green Apples” and “Hey Jude” from the Beatles further fill the plate. Brimming with hope and ambition, Puzzle People is a masterpiece of its era, recorded by a group that knew exactly what they wanted to accomplish and how to go about doing so.

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Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at [email protected]
Beverly Paterson
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