This blog is about the making of a very popular song from 1971. When we (collectively referring to you, the reader, and us, the DTM band as “we”) first heard this song on the radio in 1971, we were mesmerized by the orchestration, the inevitable hook line of the song and that very distinctive guitar intro. It’s one of those songs that paints a picture in your mind as you hear it and think about the words that are being said. A truly spectacular song.
We are talking about “Just My Imagination” by The Temptations. There was an interview many years ago that talked about the making of this Grammy Award winning song. An interview featuring Otis Williams, the band leader and singer; along with Eddie Willis, the guitarist of the song, Just My Imagination, where they talk about the making of the song and the struggles behind the scenes. Here are a few excepts from that interview:
From Otis Williams, band leader/singer:
“We’d been doing a lot of “psychedelic soul” at the time which won a lot of Grammys and sold well, but people kept asking when we were going back to the classic ballads. We mentioned this to the songwriter and producer Norman Whitefield. He gave us “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”, with lyrics by Barrett Strong.
“Norman and Barrett were a great team. Norman was a master at balancing everything: strings, horns, marimba, vocals, and rhythm. Barret’s lyrics are timeless: a guy expressing his desire for a girl but only towards the end do you realize it’s all in his dreams. Whatever their walk of life, people can identify with that……..(and) when we recorded it, and Norman (later) added the orchestrations with the strings and horn arrangements, we thought that this was not only going to be a hit, but it was spectacular.
“At the time, Eddie Kendricks, the band’s lead singer, and I were not getting along. Personality clashes. He wanted to go solo. We’d start recording at seven at night and go right through to the wee hours. Eddie didn’t leave the studio until morning, having delivered a wonderful, sweet, tender sincere performance.
Paul Williams has the line: “every night on my knees I pray.” This leads into Eddie singing: “Dear Lord, hear my plea. Don’t ever let another take her away from my, or I would surely die”. It was getting to difficult point where we were going to have to let Paul go, health-wise. It’s a bad memory. It was difficult. He was a wonderful person, kind of like the soul of the group, but illness was taking him out of the game. Paul passed away in 1973. I try not to linger on the tragedy of his death; it was a great loss. I am just so glad that we were able to do what we did with the talent that we had, I had no idea the song would become such a mainstay of pop. But it’s easy to identify with, to sing along. It’s got all of the qualities. It’s just a great song.”
From Eddie Willis, guitarist:
“My guitar intro sets the mood for the whole track. Without wanting to sound big-headed, I knew it would fit. Robert White, an earlier guitarist with the band, had done the intro for “My Girl” which was perfect. So I was trying to come up with something just as distinctive.
"I was with the Funk Brothers at the time and did a lot of work for The Temptations. Just My Imagination was actually a track that Norman and Barrett had on the shelf for a couple of years. They presented us with the chords and arrangements, and we came up with the rest. James Jamerson, who plays bass, always used to say: “Put some meat to it!” Meaning, get your own stuff on it. Norman let us do that. James did a lot of ad-libbing on the bass.
"Otis and Eddie were having big disagreements. Eddie would leave the building to come back on his own to finish the vocals after Otis had gone. He put everything he had in to it. Whenever I play this song, I end up playing two or three times. When all of us are gone, they’ll still be playing Motown. To know you were a part of it, it’s a heck of a thrill”
Cherished memories for sure. Where were you when you first heard this song? What were you thinking when you heard the lyrics? The orchestration? The guitar intro? On, and those French horns and Marimbas? The great music presented to us by Motown is timeless. It is spectacular. The song “Just My Imagination” is truly a part of the fun music that everyone grew up with.