Dick’s Picks: Highly charged (and political) ‘psychedelic soul’ 1972 long player from Motown legend Norman Whitfield’s ‘The Undisputed Truth’ project….
The Undisputed Truth
With a distinct nod to Detroit’s car manufacturing past, “The Undisputed Truth’ were ‘assembled’ by key Motown songwriter (and Temptations man lest we forget) Norman Whitfield, the band were a vehicle (pun intended) to realise Whitfield’s personal vision of ‘psychedelic soul’….
Using musical connections made in the heady days of ‘60s Motown Whitfield put Joe ‘Pep’ Harris on main vocal duties with Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce Evans (ex-The Delicates) supplying back-ups. A variety of crack Motown players (and a lot of Whitfield overdubbing too) provided the musical scenery.
However, place the needle down on track one and you might be forgiven for being just a tad disappointed – “hey I was expecting ‘mind expansion’ and all I got was ‘You Got The Love I Need’, not that there’s anything wrong with this little soul nugget mind, far from it – it’s a cracking three minutes, with more Motown sounding ‘signposts’ than you can shake a tambourine at – huge strings, backing vocals, walking bass and those tell-tale drum salvos liberally sprinkled throughout.
It’s not until you get to track four, their take on ‘Aquarius’ from the Hair musical, that things start to get, well, a little ‘hairy’, a quiet, reflective take on a song that was based on the belief that the world was entering ‘The Age Of Aquarius’, an age of “love, light and humanity”……
If, by this point, you were thinking of returning the album for its distinct lack of ‘freakiness’ (“it doesn’t do what it says on the psychedelic tin”), then strap yourself in for the full duration of their 10 minute plus take on the Temptations political/social commentary anthem ‘Ball Of Confusion’ – it’s nothing short of a state-of-the-nation address (circa1972 that is), “segregation, determination, demonstration, integration – a ball of confusion, that’s what the world is today”, errr, hang on, did I say 1972?
Musically, it knocks the Temptations original into a cocked-hat (and theirs is pretty darn good too btw), look out for delayed, dub-style peaks on the vocals, repeated mantra-like sections, rock-solid groove, a few nods to Sly & The Family Stone and a general wigged-out ‘70s feel – you may no longer want to return the album.
….pheww..that was intense!
Key to Whitfield’s outlook was ‘Smiling Faces Sometimes’, a response to the ‘two-faced’ nature of the landscape of early ‘70s America, where the all-pervasive ‘smiley face’ was appearing on t-shirts, bumper stickers and advertising whilst the country was at war in Vietnam, high crime rates, inner-city decay and a soon-to-be impeached President…..“Smiling Faces, Smiling Faces, Sometimes They Don’t Tell The Truth – Smiling Faces, Smiling Faces Tell Lies & I Got Proof’. Mmm, perhaps things ain’t that different to 1972 after all?