Wednesday, October 6, 2010

October 6: The Temptations, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg"

Artist: The Temptations
Song: "Ain't Too Proud To Beg"
Album: Gettin' Ready
Year: 1966

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Through no fault of their own, there are a number of songs from history that have become so well known, that within a modern context, they seem almost cliché.  This is largely due to them having been played so many times over the decades and used in various forms of media that the songs themselves have become a piece of culture that is bigger than "just" a song.  However, this strange "over-familiarity" seems to work against the songs in question in many cases, as many people seem to forget that the reason it has achieved such a status is because at its core, it is a song of legendary quality.  While many songs fall into this category, it is the case with nearly every hit from the group that may very well be "the" definitive Motown act: The Temptations.  For more than fifty years, The Temptations have been bringing some of the greatest harmonies and most irresistible melodies ever recorded, and one can easily rattle off a list of the songs they recorded that have become cultural icons.  Performing everything from soulful ballads to funky dance songs, the group rarely showed any sort of limitation, and it is this diversity that made them far superior to their Motown peers.  It is also due to this extensive catalog that it is difficult to point to a single song that sums up the groups' sound.  However, while they had many legendary hits, there are few songs that have the timeless sound and stunning vocal display that one finds on The Temptations iconic 1966 single, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg."

Every single note of "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" is truly perfect, as the equally legendary Funk Brothers deploy one of their most unforgettable musical arrangements.  Showing his trademark sound of never letting anything be simple and plain, drummer William "Benny" Benjamin kicks off the track with a fantastic roll in before dropping into a tight, swinging groove that makes the song as irresistible today as it was when it was first released.  The rest of the band falls into line behind him, and the combination of the smooth sound and fantastic musicianship immediately catapulted the song to the top of the charts.  From the simple "back and forth" guitar playing to the perfectly placed piano parts, the musical arrangement on "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" shows why The Funk Brothers are held in such high regard, as they seem of overfill the sound, yet it never becomes overwhelming.  The horn sections found here are some of the best in Motown history, as they impact every side of the song, giving it even more depth and the late saxophone solo remains one of the most iconic in music history.  Rounding out the sound of the band is the signature "walking" bassline from the great James Jameson, and one need look no further than this song to understand why he remains such a music legend.  Though they had already proven themselves with their previous hits, there are few songs in the catalog of The Funk Brothers that display their musical mastery as perfectly as one finds within the sound on "Ain't Too Proud To Beg."

Strangely enough, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" was a rather new approach for The Temptations when considered from a vocal perspective.  The main difference between this song and their previous work was that in retrospect, it was "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" that solidified David Ruffin's position as the groups' primary lead vocalist.  Though the notes were clearly above his "normal" vocal range, it is somewhat due to the strain in his voice that gives the song its power, and why it stands so far above the rest of The Temptations catalog.  Ruffin performs brilliantly, bringing an unrivaled level of soul and emotion to the track, and when the rest of the group joins in for the harmonies, it is nothing short of musical bliss.  Few groups could boast an even remotely perfect sound as one hears here, and it is these harmonies that defined the Motown sound, and the way in which they were deployed influenced generations that followed.  Adding to this amazing sound is the unforgettable lyrics penned by Normal Whitfield and Edward Holland, Jr.  Though Motown had already established itself as one of the finest writing houses around, the lyrics found here perfectly convey a feeling of longing and heartbreak to which all can relate.  Quite literally every line has become a part of pop culture, and few verses in history carry the deep sentiment of when Ruffin pleads, "...if I have to sleep on your doorstep all night and day just to keep you from walkin' away, let your friends laugh, even this I can stand
cause I want to keep you any way I can..."  The combination of these perfect lyrics and the phenomenal way in which Ruffin performs them is the core reason why "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" retains its iconic status all these decades later.

Truth be told, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" was almost never released.  Due to standing policies on "how" Motown chose the songs to release, it was bumped for release by the Smokey Robinson-produced single, "Get Ready."  It was almost completely due to the comparative under-performance of that song which led to "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" getting the nod for release, and after the success of the single, Norman Whitfield became the "exclusive" producer for The Temptations for the better part of the next decade.  Since its release, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" has rarely been out of the light of popular culture, and everyone from The Rolling Stones to Ben Harper to dub legend Winston Williams have recorded their own versions of the song.  Even with such a wide range of cover versions, none of them even come close to the original recording, and it has become a high-water mark in many areas of recording, along with becoming a piece of popular culture that gets passed down through the generations.  Perhaps due to the superb musical performance from The Funk Brothers, perhaps due to the completely committed vocal work of David Ruffin, there are a number of elements at play on the track that make it far more powerful than nearly any other song in history.  As one of the biggest selling singles in Motown history, there is simply no way to properly do justice to the overall greatness that is The Temptations monumental 1966 single, "Ain't Too Proud To Beg."

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