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The Undisputed Truth

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Biography

It's not exactly fair to peg the Undisputed Truth as a one-hit wonder, because they did have a few hits for Motown in the first half of the 1970s (albeit only one big one), as well as made half a dozen albums for the label. Still, it's not that far from the truth. Nothing else they did matched the strength of "Smiling Faces Sometimes," which made number three in 1971. Crafted by Norman Whitfield, Motown's most adventurous producer of the time, it employed the funk-psychedelic guitars and ominous, socially aware lyrics that were also characteristic of his work with the Temptations during the period.

The Undisputed Truth came into being after Bobby Taylor brought Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce to Motown as part of the Delicates. When the Delicates broke up, the pair kept busy doing background vocals for the Four Tops, Diana Ross, and Edwin Starr. Whitfield teamed them up with Joe Harris of the Preps, laying the groundwork for the male-female vocal interplay that would typify their Motown sessions.

It's fair to say that the Undisputed Truth were little more than a mouthpiece for Whitfield. He wrote most of their material (sometimes in association with Barrett Strong), and used their sessions as a laboratory to devise funk rhythms and psychedelic guitar effects. He was doing the same thing with the Temptations, and the Undisputed Truth's records couldn't help but suffer in comparison. As vocalists they weren't in the same league as the Temps, and Whitfield was most likely reserving his real killer songs for the more famous group.

The group never approached the success of "Smiling Faces Sometimes" again, although they racked up a series of modest R&B hits through the mid-'70s. The best of these were "You Make Your Own Heaven and Hell Right Here on Earth" (which perhaps recalled "Smiling Faces" a little too closely) and the original version of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," which Whitfield would quickly redo with the Temptations for a much more definitive (and massively successful) version. Little else in the Undisputed Truth discography demands attention, though Motown scholars will find their work worth a listen to investigate some of the ideas rattling around Whitfield's head in the 1970s.

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