Last year in commenting on a previous blog of mine, a friend used the word forensic to describe the photographs I had used. It was one of those times I wish I had thought about using it myself, because it is such a good word to relate to photography. I kept it in my head to potentially use at a later time. This is that time as it turns out, but it comes with a catch of sorts. I decided to go one step further and use the application of forensics to the music as well as the photography. For the photograph I wanted to use one that had many things to look at and required careful looking to see it all. Similarly, for the music I wanted to use a song that had multiple components. A variety of sounds that together make the song special.
The photograph I chose is one I have used a slightly different perspective of here in this blog previously (way back in Part 2). But this one has more of a closeup view of the scene which I felt necessary. I took it several years ago on the Highline, the wonderful elevated park running through portions of downtown Manhattan. The song on the other hand, is one I have long wanted to break down in this forensic manner if you will. Long before I ever began writing these blogs, I told people that if ever I were to teach music, I would start with ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ by The Temptations. The song has the complete package-vocals by The Temptations original lineup of Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin together with the music provided by Motown’s legendary house band, The Funk Brothers. There is more happening within the first 15 seconds of the song than just about any other I can think of. But perhaps for the first time here, this blog is not about song lyrics, or emotions, or memories from my past joined together with the aid of a photograph. This blog is about looking closer. Looking through the microscope to see what we can find. As you will see, in one single photograph there can be many things to look at, and in one single song, there can be many components to listen to, if you do it carefully. So let the forensics begin.
First we need the evidence, so here is the photograph-
And now the song-
Next, here are the facts as we know them. The photograph in black, the song in blue
A drumroll and cymbal crash
A plaintive cry, Ruffin howls, “I know you want to leave me”
4 notes on a piano, “But I ref…”
Harmony vocals, Franklin’s deep baritone
Cymbal keeping time, “…use to let you go”
More piano notes
“If I have to beg, plead for your sympathy…”
Ruffin growls, “I don’t MIND (hint of Missisippi) ’cause you mean that much to me”
15 seconds of music perfection.
A pile of junk, or is it art?
Large hole in the wall, how did that happen?
Exposed beams, rope hanging down
Rust colored walls, cables dangling from roof
Black metal door, closed.
Crumbling brick walls, exposed
Metal shutter shuttered
Peeling painted air ducts,
Crumbled bricks and shredded roof bits
Graffiti pronouncing wall “CRACK ED” with an arrow at the spot
“Ain’t too proud to B-E-E-E-G
Shake of a tambourine
More oohing, “Sweet Darling”
Guitar staccato now takes over that 2/4 beat
“Please don’t leave me
Backing vocals slightly louder- “Don’t You Go”
Bass rumbles in, finding the space
Ruffin’s voice higher, “Ain’t too proud to PLEAD baby baby
Funky bass notes slicing across the rhythm
Groove falling into place now, piano lays back
Blue bucket, white bucket
Statue Of Liberty frame, no flame, spike in crown broken
Pyramid shaped skylight with pyramid shaped cap on top
Black plastic bag
Angled cut plywood covering something-what though?
Hand truck standing straight, doesn’t look like junk
Rectangular metal frame
Blue director’s chair leaning
Wheelbarrow holds a sink, flat tire
Garden hose twisted and tangled, always seems to be that way
Black pot perched on junk, empty
“Now I heard a crying man”
Conga skin beats
Single whoa oooh from the guys, take a break this verse guys
Enter the horns, loud single note, insistent at first
Guitar and horns take the beat now
Congas and tambourine working together
“…Keep you by my side”
Horn burst to the chorus
Everybody working it now
Another verse and chorus keeping that groove going
One television set on a table, VHF and UHF dials
Bamboo fence rolled up and leaning
Digital television set, broken rabbit ears on white table
A mannequin answering the phone with one hand, holding a stick in the other,
As he sits in a white plastic chair
A white refrigerator sitting on a table beside him, maybe it has beer inside?
Tall white urn sits empty but unbroken
Metal frames leaned against brick wall
Gold colored fabric shaped like a Renaissance painting
Hose reel rusting, not doing it’s job
Voice cracking, Ruffin pushes it out…”anyway I can”
Another horn burst, sax solo not too long, not too short
“Now I’ve got a love…
Bring it home guys
“Ain’t too proud to beg sweet darling”
Two minutes, 33 seconds of musical skill
A globe giving a dash of color
Stacked bricks and a tarp with a sign
Next door roof not as interesting, what do they think about their neighbor?
Red barbeque grill, white gutter dented
Iron grated window, windscreens strewn carelessly
A black flower pot, empty, ready to fall below, will they even notice?
So much to see, how do you start?
The conclusion of the forensics report? In terms of the photograph it was just one of those moments when I was walking, camera in hand. I seem to recall it being the first time I had been to the Highline. The scene was just something that caught my eye. When I saw the results I knew it was an appealing photograph. However, when I made a large print of the photo the details really jumped out at me more. You could see the objects (or junk) more clearly and it became a photo equivalent of Where’s Waldo in some ways. Similarly, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg is a song that has never waned in popularity since its release in 1966. The song really is perfect in so many ways. Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland Jr’s song. The Funk Brothers laying the foundation, the Temptations at the peak of their ability, led by David Ruffin’s strong vocal. All the more perfect considering that Whitfield as producer arranged the song just above Ruffin’s range and as legend has it, by the time the session was ended, his trademark glasses were fogged over and he was drenched in sweat.
Too often we look at photographs in a cursory way I think. We go right to the focal point usually, but sometimes miss the other elements. Not every photo is like this one of mine of course, but there are often components that are worth looking at. The same can be said for a good song. Layers of production can sometimes make it difficult to locate the musical elements. In both cases though, the answer to exploring more is easy. Applying a little forensics to both a photograph and a song really works. You never know what you will find.
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg-Written By Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland Jr.
All photographs by Robert P Doyle All images in this blog are available in limited supply for purchase as unframed prints. Sizes may vary. Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
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