Soundtrack Of A Photograph, Part 18


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…”
Harmonies whooooing 
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

Drum roll
“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 for details.

Like this blog on Facebook and Twitter (Links above on the right). Also, check out my Soundtrack Of A Photograph YouTube page for links to all the songs mentioned in the blogs as well as extra content.

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13 thoughts on “Soundtrack Of A Photograph, Part 18

    1. Aww thank you so much! Yes I was a little busy together with a brief bout of writers block. I also started a FB tribute page for an artist I wrote about last year which took some time. I’m glad you liked that juxtaposition. I wanted to do something different, which included the free form poetry if you will, something I have never really done before. Thanks so much for the nice comment 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks so much Amy! I wanted to do something very different for this one, and this photo and this song have been thoughts I wanted to explore for some time now. Thanks as always for the support!


  2. be

    Extremely proud of your writing, photography, and talent for attaching soundtracks to photos. Original, innovative , creative and inciteful. My late friend JC (not Johnny) would have been highly impressed with all since his career started at NYC playgrounds. Keep on truckin’.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In the true sense of the word, an awesome post! Impressive, thorough forensic analysis. And I really like the photograph. Most poetically arranged rubbish I’ve ever seen. Like it was meant to be photographed! And the words certainly go with it. Maybe you could make another analysis of photograph + song (as both are necessary for a post here!) in a tighter, sparer, poetic form.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much. I really did want to break that song down to someone who would listen for years! Guess I needed to write a blog to do it lol. You know, I hadn’t thought about doing the same sort of thing again, but that is definitely an idea. As you suggest I would definitely tighten and shorten it up significantly if I do. As to the photo I think it was deliberately placed that way, and at the time it was there I know I wasn’t alone in photographing it. Sadly it is no longer there 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The whole cracked graffiti really cracked me up! That’s just the sort of thing I like. It did seem like there was some deliberation there, with the Statue of Liberty turning up to represent where it’s from. But, I’m willing to ignore it and think it was just Mother Nature, no, Mother City which made it that way.

        I will definitely read more of your posts in the future when I get time after finishing the book I’m writing. You have an excellent blog that requires slower reading, and I look forward to it!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you. I like to think it was a little planned…and a little accidental as well! No worries on the reading. The nice thing is a blog is always there when you are ready for it and not something you ‘have’ to get done. Good luck with the writing. A pleasure as always!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Your commentary is extremely deep…but I’ve learned to expect that from you lol. As I was looking at the photo, I couldn’t tell if it was just me or if things seem kinda small? The tv’s were noticeably small but I couldn’t tell if that is a door directly behind the busted statue of liberty or just some object leaning against the wall such as a screen. Interesting photo, nevertheless. You do have a good eye for this stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Tasha, as always. My vantage point was higher and a bit of a distance away, so I think that is why everything looks smaller. I think those tv’s are just so old that they look small compared to the enormo-screens of today! I think you are right-that is a metal door it looks like behind the Statue Of Liberty. I just remember walking the Highline not long after it opened and stumbling upon that scene was pretty cool. But that song, oh man do I love that one. The Funk Brothers (Motown’s house band) were so great!


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