‘I Can’t Get Next To You’: The Temptations Unite Soul And Pop Again

The powerful song was the second single from the group’s ‘Puzzle People’ album.

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Temptations ‘I Can’t Get Next To You’ artwork - Courtesy: UMG
Temptations ‘I Can’t Get Next To You’ artwork - Courtesy: UMG

It’s October 18, 1969. The Russian Soyuz 8 spacecraft returns to Earth with cosmonauts Shatalov and Yeliseyev. Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner is arrested for marijuana possession. Wyclef Jean and golfer Ernie Els are each one day old; Led Zeppelin are preparing to release their second album. Gas costs 35c a gallon in the US and 6s 2d (31p) in the UK. And America’s new favorite pop single is “I Can’t Get Next To You” by the Temptations.

I Can't Get Next To You

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Another triumph in the ongoing collaboration between the vocal group, producer Norman Whitfield and his co-writer on it, Barrett Strong, the new smash was the second single from the Temptations’ Puzzle People album. Two weeks earlier, “Next To You” had become their fourth R&B bestseller in 20 months (and already the tenth of their glorious Motown career). The song would prompt covers by a variety of artists including their labelmates the Four Tops and an emerging Al Green.

Improved pop fortunes

But this crossover success was a huge achievement, their first pop No.1 since “My Girl” in 1965 and a huge improvement on their recent track record on the Hot 100. “I’ll Try Something New,” with the Supremes, had gone to No.8 on the R&B chart but only reached 25 pop, and ‘‘Don’t Let The Joneses Get You Down” only managed No.20.

Listen to the Best Motown Songs Ever playlist.

That Billboard pop chart showed Marvin Gaye joining the Temptations in the Top 10 with his own latest crossover, the groovy, upbeat “That’s The Way Love Is,” which climbed from No.12 to its No.7 peak. Stevie Wonder debuted at No.94 with “Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yester-Day” which would also top out at No.7.

But the glory belonged to the Tempts, as they climbed 4-1 to end the four-week reign of the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar,” with a two-week run before Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” stole America’s hearts.

Buy or stream “I Can’t Get Next To You” on the Psychedelic Soul album.

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