Though tentative and flawed, this debut hints at how the group would later develop.
Daryl Easlea 2010-07-21
The Undisputed Truth – vocalists Joe Harris, Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce – are often seen as little more than a footnote in Motown’s illustrious history. They remain a name purely for the fact that they worked alongside producer and writer Norman Whitfield in his era of dominance at the label as it grew more adult-orientated and socially aware.
And there is every reason for that thought: Whitfield actually formed the group as an experiment, speculating that he could produce an act from nowhere and garner a hit record. While it is true that the producer often used the group as a test bed for material for his other major act, The Temptations, it should not be assumed The Undisputed Truth did not have their own character and not inconsiderable bite.
Although their self-titled debut album only contained one song specifically written by Whitfield for it, it is a beautiful, transitional record. There is much that would be considered traditional Motown. For example, there is the great, conventional soul of Save My Love for a Rainy Day, a cover of The Temptations. If the sweet northern soul stomper You Got the Love I Need sounds dated, it’s because it utilises a backing track originally cut in 1965.
But it was not all some ragbag of off-cuts. Something darker was at work, pointing toward the direction that the group would fully embrace over their next few albums – lengthy, mysterious workouts, with the girls’ sweet harmonies and chorus sweetening the grit of Harris’ vocal delivery. Covers of California Soul and an extended Ball of Confusion (with plenty of in-era “right on!”s), as well as Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone, underlined Whitfield’s desire to meddle with convention.
Smiling Faces Sometimes, another song cut by The Temptations, provided the trio with their biggest US hit, reaching number three on the chart. Its dense production and finger-pointing lyrics chimed perfectly with the suspicion and paranoia of the age.
Although The Undisputed Truth didn’t actually have a hit in the UK until 1977, with You + Me+ Love, they became something of a connoisseur’s choice. And this debut album, although at times tentative and flawed, hints at how they would later develop.