Last week I wrote a column with the headline: “Obama and Trump are God’s gifts.” As you would imagine, I received a number of responses, most, far and away positive. Some, not so much. Whether associated with a positive or negative comment, you would never guess what readers honed in on most.
It wasn’t that I said President Trump “blew it” in his initial response to the Charlottesville, Virginia riot. Nor was it the paragraph that said, “Those who support or supported him (Trump) can’t say they were bamboozled.” Was it the part where I wrote, “I could now care less about Confederate monuments. These monuments are not about me, but they are a reflection of what’s in the hearts of the white community. This is their issue to own. They put them up, it’s up to them — for their own sake — to take them down or not.” Nah.
The part of the column that received the most response was, “So why is Trump God’s gift? There is an old song (released 1971) by the Temptations, “Smiling Faces Sometimes.” The lyrics are revealing:
“Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend.
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Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within.”
Was it the lyrics? Uh, no. It was the group. Many of my fellow musicologists thought the song, “Smiling Faces Sometimes” was recorded by the Undisputed Truth —and they are correct. The Undisputed Truth, made up of Joe Harris, Billie Calvin and Brenda Evans, took the song to No. 3 on the Billboard charts on Sept 4, 1971, the same week Aretha Franklin’s “Spanish Harlem” hit No. 4 and Bill Withers, “Ain’t No Sunshine” sat at No. 6.
However, “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” written by Motown’s dynamic songwriting duo of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong was on the Temptations “Sky’s The Limit” album released in April of that year. The album also featured, “Just My Imagination,” and “Love Can Be Anything (Can’t ‘Nothin’ Be Love But Love).” Whitfield was responsible for forming the Undisputed Truth and had them record “Smiling Faces,” too, with a different arrangement.
So why did the Undisputed Truth version take off and the Temptations not? Pretty simple. The Undisputed Truth version is 3:16 long, just right for radio airplay in 1971. The Temps version is 12:35. Way too long for radio play.
You might remember that the Temptations, after their hits of the 1960s, “My Girl,” “Since I Lost My Baby,” “I Wish It Would Rain,” went into what is now called “Psychedelic Soul,” with “Ball of Confusion,” “Psychedelic Shack,” “Run Away Child, Running Wild,” “Take a Stroll Thru Your Mind,” “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and others. Although many featured radio-length cuts, the album versions were typically well over seven minutes long. “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” was 11:46.
On a personal note, I didn’t like where the Temptations were headed one bit, and apparently, Whitfield, was getting some push back, too. Many thought he was using the Temptations to experiment with this new “Psychedelic Soul” genre. And that’s where the Undisputed Truth came in with their futuristic attire and makeup. And if you remember, “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” wasn’t the only Temptations cover Undisputed Truth recorded. They also performed different arrangements of “Ball of Confusion” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.”
Motown, at the time was full of music that commented on society, from Edwin Starr’s “War” (What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’) to Marvin Gaye’s classic, “What’s Goin’ On.”
Each generation has its songs of conscience. Some would call them songs of protest, but at least in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you could understand what the artists were singing about without the aid of a teenager nearby to translate.