#16 The Temptations – Can’t Get Next to You
Back when researchers played musical hooks to listeners over the phone to determine recognition scores, The Temps’ “My Girl” began it’s long tenure as the most overplayed single of all time. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a classic. It sold a ton. It’s an easy sing-along song and everybody joins in when they hear it performed live.
But pound for pound, nothing in the Motown canon will ever top 1969’s, “I Can’t Get Next to You“. From the Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong music and lyrics to the Funk Brothers fantastic backing tracks, from Dennis Edwards calming words to the crowd, “Hold it, hold it… Listen,” to the soulful keyboard intro that totally fools you until the rhythm section kicks it into high hear, from the back and forth solos, one of the few times that each of the Temps got to sing alone at the mic on a single, to the “Heeey Ya” shout that intros the instrumental break up strain, “I Can’t Get Next to You” is one of the most nearly perfect pop records ever recorded.
Such was it’s power that it knocked the horrific “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies out of the Number One spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and slammed the Dell’s superb remake of “Oh What a Night” into the oldies bin on the R&B chart.
I got a sense for the tune’s staying power at a party I attended. It was the Summer before 9th grade and a bunch of us had gathered and someones house to hang out and listen to 45s. There were only two that the crowd kept demanding be repeated over and over. One was Bill Hailey’s “Rock Around the Clock”. The other was, “I Can’t Get Next to You”. As the evening wore on, even Hailey couldn’t maintain.
Understand that junior high attention spans were as fickle then as they are now. The pure fact that a group of kids could agree that one song should own the turntable for so long in a single evening was something I never forgot. When I joined the radio fraternity a year later and began doing my own record hops, this Temps classic was the first 45 I made sure was in the singles box.
It is still said that seeing the Temptations perform, “I Can’t Get Next to You” live, was a near religious experience. The backing arrangement was pure dance music, fired at you like a machine gun. It challenged the guys to be on their A-Game. It was a song that could eat you alive if you weren’t paying attention.
Here’s a rare recording of the group singing their hit along with the live backing tracks that never failed to bring every audience to their feet.