Dennis Edwards 1943-2018
I’ve been debating posting this video in tribute since one of the great Motown voices, Temptations great Dennis Edwards, died last Thursday at the age of 75. The tendency is always to never speak ill of the dead–and not just because they have eeeerie powers. However, in the spirit of genuine side of people’s obsession with movies like The Room, I can’t help but feel bringing up one of Edwards’ perhaps less proud, yet somehow beautiful moments, it is the deepest honor. Plus, it’s just an amazing song whose bassline is an enduring hip-hop sample. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Tonight, We’re Gonna Taste A Little Paradise
By 1984, music video was hardly in its infancy, but production values on many videos were not exactly … well, you’re reading this, so you’ve probably seen Stranger Things. That year, Edwards, fresh off a second tour in the Temps, released his first full-length album, Don’t Look Any Further. Edwards had a brief moment of a solo career 18 years earlier with the single “I Didn’t Have To (But I Did)” which truly should have charted but did not. However, now we were in the MTV era and while that station was shamefully just getting its feet wet with non-White artists, a fledgling network called Black Entertainment Television entered the fray.
For Don’t Look Any Further‘s title track, Edwards made his first leap into the short film forum and, boy, was it memorable–if not in the most ideal way. As Edwards mugged for the camera, tuxedo clad, in front of an unchanging and downright inscrutable background seemingly spontaneously generated by a machine straight out of a Tron ripoff, two red ladies’ gloves inched up his chest. Gradually it was revealed they belonged to Siedah Garrett, who years later would top the pop charts in a duet with Michael Jackson. For the rest of the four minutes, Edwards & Garrett dance an awkward tango in front of the mysterious ultra-’80s cityscape.
Through the years, the video has made the rounds and has entered the canon of all things so-bad-they’re-good. Edwards had a brilliant career (hey, he sang for the mofo’ing Temptations), and thankfully, probably like most people, I know him for much more than this primitive-looking video from over three decades ago. However, I will say that the first (and one of the only times) I ever attempted to write a song, I was 12, and after one chorus, I realized it was an almost note-for-note rip-off of “Don’t Look Any Further.”
Thinking of a Master Plan…
Most importantly, the insistent rhythmic bass hook is up there with Amazing Bongo Band’s “Apache,” James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” and Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat” as one of the most familiar samples in the hip-hop catalogue. Perhaps its most famous use is as the underpinning of Eric B. & Rakim’s statement song “Paid in Full” as Eric B. introduces himself, his representation, his record label, and Rakim and demands their money.
And We’ll Go On & On & On…
In any case, Dennis Edwards possessed one of the more soulful voices in creation, and used it to make his mark on R&B history. Please forgive me for resorting to this tired trope, but wherever he is, I hope he’s still dancing like everyone is watching and still looking in those ebony eyes.