Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote so many gems for the Temptations that some of them are inevitably underrated — even though they were big hits at the time. A case in point is the superb and socially aware ‘Take A Look Around,’ which entered both the pop and R&B charts in the US on 4 March 1972.
That was a red-letter edition of Billboard for the Motown giants, as the parent album Solid Rock climbed to the top of the magazine’s Bestselling Soul LPs chart, and 39-25 on the all-genre countdown. ‘Take A Look Around’ was also listed as a National Breakout single along with James Brown‘s new release, the similarly anti-drug call-to-arms ‘King Heroin.’
The Temptations’ song had been in Billboard‘s Bubbling Under section of new tracks outside the Hot 100, at No. 123, before jumping to No. 62, and starting at No. 46 R&B. It had been highlighted as a pick by the trade title along with Brown’s single and Elton John‘s ‘Tiny Dancer,’ among others. The group marked the single’s release with a March residency at the Copacabana supper club in New York, scene of their Live At The Copa album of 1968.
Whitfield’s production was greatly enhanced by a masterful arrangement by Tom Baird, featuring a taut combination of strings, highly unusual harpsichord and French horn details and fluid rhythm guitar that weaved elegantly among the vocals. Cash Box‘s review noted that the orchestration was “as stirring as Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Volkyries’ [sic].”
In another rare touch, the lead voices included the tones of Otis Williams on joint lead with Dennis Edwards. This was soon after the departure of founding members Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, and Damon Harris, Richard Street and Melvin Franklin all played their part in some of the Tempts’ best harmonies in recent memory.
“Selling death, no conscience has he”
Lyrically, ‘Take A Look Around’ eloquently implored the listener to look at what was happening to urban America, bemoaning the prevalence of drugs and crime on streets that weren’t safe to walk (“Junk man standing on the corner/Selling death, no conscience has he”). The only pity was that the song faded, far too soon, at 2’44”, but that didn’t halt its progress to No. 10 on the soul countdown. It was the Temptations’ 27th top ten R&B single.
It led off an album that featured a seven-minute cover of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine,’ with Street and Harris to the fore and an even more epic, 12-minute ‘Stop The War Now.’ The quintet’s previous hit, the No. 8 R&B success ‘Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)’ was included, as was the one before that, ‘It’s Summer.’ Another popular track was ‘Smooth Sailing (From Now On),’ which became the b-side of ‘Take A Look Around’ and featured Harris’ first lead vocal.
‘Take A Look Around’ is on Solid Rock, which can be bought here.