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I Can't Get Next to You

"I Can't Get Next to You" is a 1969 number-one single recorded by The Temptations and produced by Norman Whitfield for the Gordy (Motown) label. The song was the number-one single on the Billboard Top Pop Singles chart for two weeks in 1969, from October 11 to October 25, replacing "Sugar, Sugar" by The Archies and replaced by "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley. The single was also a number-one hit on the Billboard Top R&B Singles for five weeks, from October 4 to November 1, replacing "Oh, What a Night" by The Dells, and replaced by another Motown song, "Baby I'm For Real" by The Originals.

The single was the second of the Temptations' four number-one hits on the United States pop charts, and was also the best-selling single the group released.


Building on the foundation set by their previous "psychedelic soul" records from the Cloud Nine album, "I Can't Get Next to You" is a marked departure from with the Temptations' David Ruffin-led hits. Although it is in essence a love song like those earlier Smokey Robinson-crafted singles, "I Can't Get Next to You's" backing track features a high tempo, and a focus on piano, electric guitar, and drums that gives the song the feel of a Sly & the Family Stone recording.

"I Can't Get Next to You" features all five Temptations trading verses about how having all the powers in the world means nothing if a man cannot impress the woman he loves -- very similar to the lyrics of Ira Gershwin's 1935 standard "I Can't Get Started With You". Each member of the group sings a separate line of the song's verses; for example, the first verse begins:

Dennis Edwards: "I can turn the grayest sky blue..."
Melvin Franklin: "I can make it rain, whenever I want it to...".
Eddie Kendricks: "I can build a castle from a single grain of sand..."
Paul Williams: "I can make a ship sail on dry land...".

Otis Williams: "I can make the seasons change just by a wave of my hand..." (later in the song).

Each verse continues in this fashion, with Edwards or Kendricks delivering the pre-chorus and all five members singing the chorus of "I can't get next to you, babe/I can't get next to you." When performing the song live, the Temptations would perform the number with a stiff-legged dance routine that Kendricks devised from similar dance moves his children did around the house.

The single opens with the sound of applause, similar to a lively party. Dennis Edwards then interrupts the proceedings ("Hold on, everybody, hold it, hold on...listen!"), and the song proper begins. After a bluesy piano solo from Earl Van Dyke, the rest of the Funk Brothers studio band joins in and the first verse begins. "I Can't Get Next to You's" intro was sampled for the album version of the next major Temptations hit, "Psychedelic Shack", one of the earliest uses of such a technique.

"I Can't Get Next to You" was the second single from the 1969 Temptations LP Puzzle People, with "Running Away (Ain't Gonna Help You)", a slow ballad led by Paul Williams, as the b-side. The single was a number-one hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the Billboard Top R&B Singles charts. The song has been frequently covered, with the most notable cover being a 1970 version by Al Green, which strips the composition of its fast pace and multi-lead vocals, and instead renders it as a slow-burning plea for love. Green's cover, the title track of his 1971 LP Al Green Gets Next to You, reached number sixty on the Billboard Pop Singles chart, and number eleven on the R&B chart.

It was also later covered by Annie Lennox on her Medusa album.

In 1971 the British group Savoy Brown included a much slower and bluesier version in their album Street Corner Talking.

In 2002, Toto covered the song on their album Through the Looking Glass.

In 2006, San Francisco band Thee More Shallows covered the song on their EP Monkey vs. Shark.

In 2008, Lil' Wayne sampled parts of the song for his song "I" fors his mixtape "Da Drought is Over 5" altering the chorus of the song in similar fashion.


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