Motown, by and large, was not your one-stop shop for Really Depressing Records: as Smokey Robinson once said (albeit in an HDH composition), “I Gotta Dance to Keep From Crying,” and even some downright mournful songs — think “7 Rooms of Gloom” — still have that Funk Brothers rhythmic kick.
Ruffin’s bad dream, if you take the lyrics at face value, is about nothing more than the consequences of a failed love affair: pretty horrible stuff, yes, but not enough to cause ongoing paralysis of the spirit. With some notable exceptions (can you say “Ophelia”?), most people survive this sort of thing.
The operative word here is “most.”
The Temptations did two really good songs on the subject of romantic desolation. “Since I Lost My Baby,” a Smokey confection, contains some excellent wordplay — “Fun is a bore / And with money I’m poor” — but our narrator is still, um, inclined to find her, which suggests hope, however faint.
That leaves the crown (of thorns) to “I Wish It Would Rain,” with a gorgeous Barrett Strong piano figure that telegraphs purest despair from the opening bar. The lyrics are by Roger Penzabene, based on a theme by Dee Clark: it’s not really tears you’re seeing. But while Clark is, for lack of a better term, generically sad, Penzabene’s words well up from the very depths of his soul. As it turns out, poor Roger was spinning out an autobiography: his wife had been unfaithful, yet he couldn’t let her go to save his life.
Norman Whitfield finished up the production in August 1967; Motown scheduled the release for the 30th of December. The next day — New Year’s Eve — Roger Penzabene killed himself. And in case you missed his point, the next Tempts single was called “I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You),” and it contained Roger’s very last lyric. Motown itself demonstrated its own ability to miss the point by subsequently shoving both these songs into a superfluous compilation series called The Good-Feeling Music of the Big Chill Generation.
(Disclosure: This has been kicking around in the back of my head literally for months. It didn’t quite force itself to the foreground until yesterday, when the song came pouring into the car on the way home; but I was damned if I was going to post this on Valentine’s Day.)