James Jamerson thumps a heartbeat on the bass. Robert White’s guitar corkscrews out in reply. And the immortal David Ruffin sings, in a voice of sweetness shadowed by sorrow, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.”
That’s from Leonard Pitts Jr.’s syndicated newspaper column today, celebrating The Temptations’ “My Girl,” which hit the top of the pop charts fifty years ago this week. He observes (correctly, in my case), “you are probably humming it right now, recalling the airtight harmonies and the way the horns and strings danced elegant pirouettes of sound.” His next assertion about the song is seasoned with at least a dash of hyperbole, but I’m okay with it: “It is the most perfect thing ever recorded.”
The song–which was written by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White from another Motown group, The Miracles, and–embodies out one of the (many) tricky things about this blog’s enterprise. That is, it’s a great record and a great cultural moment (who among us has not tried to replicate the Temps’ dance moves while lip-synching to “My Girl”?), but is it a great song?
I am going to say yes, in part because of what comes through after a half-century as the purity of both the music and the lyrics. “When it’s cold outside, I got the month of May.” How could that possibly be improved on?
The website Secondhand Songs lists seventy-five covers of “My Girl,” not many of them memorable. (A collaboration between Count Basie and Jackie Wilson has historical significance, at least.) Dolly Parton’s version, from her 2007 CD New Harvest … First Gathering, did catch my ear; it’s a little bit country, a little bit gospel, with some nicely reimagined instrumentation and the refrain changed to “my love.”