*10.17-CLOUD NINE (Temptations)




The childhood part of my life wasn’t very pretty.
You see, I was born and raised in the slums of the city.
It was a one-room shack that slept ten other children beside me.
We hardly had enough food or room to sleep.

It was hard times; I needed somethin' to ease my troubled mind.

My father didn't know the meaning of work.
He disrespected mama, and treated us like dirt.
I left home seeking a job that I never did find.
Depressed and down-hearted I took to cloud nine.

I'm doing fine up here on cloud nine. (2x)

Folks down there tell me...
They say give yourself a chance, son, don’t let life pass you by.
That the world of reality's a rat race where only the strongest survive.
It's a dog-eat-dog world and that ain't no lie.
It ain't even safe no more to walk the streets at night!

I'm doing fine on cloud nine.

Let me tell you 'bout cloud nine...

You can be what you want to be.
You ain't got no responsibility.
And every man in his mind is free.
You're a million miles from reality.

     I wanna' stay up
     Up up, up and away
     Cloud nine

          I wanna' say I love the life I live,
          And I'm going to live the life I love
          Up here on cloud nine...
          I'm ridin' high on cloud nine.

You're as free as a bird in flight.
There's no difference between day and night.
It's a world of love and harmony.
You're a million miles from reality.

     [Repeat B section]

[Repeat 4th verse]

You can be what you want to be.


Cloud Nine was the first critically successful psychedelic record that Motown released, and the first time that wah-wah guitar was used on a Motown record. The songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland (who had orchestrated Motown’s first foray into psychedelia during the Summer of Love with Diana Ross & the Supremes’ Reflections, a commercially successful but misguided attempt at capturing the aesthetic) had left the recording company and been replaced by the songwriting team of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. Whitfield brought in an understanding of the music performed by Sly & the Family Stone, and drew from their complex vocal arrangements to produce a new sound for the Temptations which he termed “psychedelic soul”. The Temptations, who had previously featured a lead singer supported by harmonies, were trained to sing in discrete vocal lines as individual voices, passing the song among themselves. They also were asked for the first time to share time with sometimes lengthy instrumental sections that featured a driving rock or African beat rather than based on “sophisticated” piano and strings. Whereas Holland-Dozier-Holland produced records of broad commercial appeal usually on topics of romantic love, Barrett Strong, following up on the Chambers Brothers’ Time Has Come Today, featured lyrics of political and social consciousness expressing the Black American experience. Whitfield and Strong would go on to produce many successful Temptations songs for their “psychedelic period”: I Can’t Get Next to You / Ball of Confusion / Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone among them. As psychedelia was on the wane with White audiences by the late 1960s, psychedelic soul would enjoy success into the first years of the following decade. Cloud Nine was the first Motown song to receive a Grammy Award. The Temptations would receive yet another Grammy in 1973 for psychedelic disco-inflected Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.

The term “cloud nine” is mysterious in origin, first showing up in print in the early 1950s in relation to boxing, as a slang term for a knockout, losing consciousness. (It is suspected that it had been used as unpublished slang on the streets of American cities for at least a decade before then.) In the 1950s “cloud seven” was more popular to express euphoria as it rhymed with “heaven”. In 1935, “cloud eight” was a slang term used to designate a “befuddled state on account of drinking too much liquor”. Given the psychedelic aesthetic which the song Cloud Nine expressed, it is natural to believe that the subject matter is about altered consciousness through the use of some sort of hallucinogen. Everyone involved in this project has denied this. The lyrics themselves never mention drugs directly, and (without psychedelic instrumentation) could be construed to being “free in one’s mind” by living in a fantasy world “ a million miles from [a harsh] reality”. However, within its entire context, Cloud Nine appears to offer an unapologetic motive for why Blacks living in poverty would be attracted to taking drugs. Whereas much of White psychedelic music had diluted its promotion of hallucinogens as a means to enlightenment by late 1968, psychedelic soul was finding in drugs an avenue of escape from intolerable social conditions.