Songs I Turned Up: Just My Imagination, The Temptations

Posted on April 13, 2011 by

Songs I Turned Up

Artist: The Temptations
Title: Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
LP: Sky’s The Limit
Released: 1971
Date Heard: April 10th and 11th

It was Sunday morning and I was listening to an encore airing of American Top 40 from 1971. The number one hit for the week was the Temptations’, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” was slotted at number two. It was a nice double-shot of early 70’s soul. While driving home from work at about 1:00 am, I again heard the Tempts’ cut. That’s when I turned it up.

If you look at the Temptations chart history, “Imagination” stands out because it charted in a time where they were in the midst of the psychedelic-soul phase. 1968 saw “Cloud Nine” peak at number nine on the Billboard Top Ten. In 1969 both “Runaway Child Running Wild” and “I Can’t Get Next To You” were Top Ten hits with the latter hitting number one. “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball of Confusion” peaked at number three and number seven, respectively in 1970. Then came “Just My imagination” in 1971 and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” in 1972.

Apparently, they were getting some flak for abandoning their soul side for the harder edged psychedelic soul and producer Norman Whitfield responded by constructing this masterpiece. The result was a piece that transcended soul music into a grandiose pop hit.

Whitfield employed the Motown studio band, the Funk Brothers and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to back the Temptations. It’s Eddie “Chank” Willis’ guitar that opens the track, followed by Bob Babbit’s bass. The string sections breezes in with the Tempts’ vocals riding upon them. And then to accent the arrangement, the Funk Brothers’ Jack Ashford patters the marimba, sounding like wooden wind chimes.

When Eddie Kendricks take the lead, drummer Andrew Smith has a steady beat on the rim of the drum, simulating the ticking of a clock, which is a reference point to this dream-state that Kendricks beautifully chirps through, will have an end. Kendricks meanwhile spins this tale off what a lucky guy he is to have such a beautiful woman. Soon they’ll marry, have a country home and have two or three kids. He reminds us between every verse in the chorus that it is just his imagination running away with him, but the arrangements are so intoxicating that you get pulled into his daydream.

Willis’ guitar is a little further down in the mix and when the song comes to the bridge a harp owns the riff and fellow Temptation, Paul Williams takes the lead for one line, “Every night on my knees I pray.” Kendricks continues with the lead at a steady meter, but when it comes to the line, “in reality, she doesn’t even know me” he slows down slightly, sending the song off-kilter for a moment, just enough to break the dreamlike state.

To fully appreciate this song, don’t listen to it on a compressed mp3 file. Find a remastered CD or an old piece of vinyl and listen to it on a nice stereo system. You will be amazed.

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