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- Posted on Jan 8th 2010 3:00PM by Pat Pemberton
"We were the first Motown act that really started adding another kind of dimension to the Motown Sound," Otis Williams, who founded the Temptations in the early '60s, tells Spinner. "We were the first, and then Stevie [Wonder] and Marvin were the next two that would go in an even greater direction."
Early Temptations hits were catchy pop songs that appealed to both black and white audiences. But as the '60s wound down, Norman Whitfield's songs would transform the group, infusing psychedelic grooves and meaningful lyrics into the famous Temptations vocal attack.
The track that changed it all was "Cloud Nine," a psychedelic single written by Whitfield and Barrett Strong in 1968. Featuring wah-wah guitar effects, a driving beat and five lead vocals, it was a departure from Motown's signature romantic songs.
"Before then, none of Motown's acts were that adventuresome," Williams says. "We took it on a challenge because we knew we were getting ready to enter unchartered waters, whereas before we had 'Please Return Your Love' and 'My Girl' and 'Since I Lost My Baby' and 'Ain't Too Proud to Beg.' And here we were talking about jumping into a whole other genre of music."
It was risky, but Motown founder Berry Gordy -- who would be famously cautious with 'What's Going On' three years later -- signed off on the track.
"Norman was such a dominant personality," said Williams, whose Temptations will soon release 'Temptations: Still Here.' "He was pretty good at talking and delivering to the point where Berry just gave us the release. And after it started hitting, hey, we had no problem."
'Cloud Nine,' about the plight of the poor, went on to become a Top Five hit, eventually winning Motown its first Grammy. With that inspiration, Gaye and Wonder became Motown's first truly autonomous artists, producing a slew of socially conscious hits in the '70s.
'Temptations: Still Here' is due out next month.