At the end of the 1960s the Motown sound changed, reflecting the social and political events of the time. This change was led by Norman Whitfield who grew in stature after the departure of Holland-Dozier- Holland in 1967. He harnessed the new sound with a very heavy funk beat, enhanced by two new additions to the Funk Brothers band, Dennis Coffey and Melvin “Wah Wah Watson” Ragin, who became famous for their skilful performances on guitar, using the revolutionary wah-wah pedal, which stand out on such tracks as “Cloud Nine” (1968) and “Run Away Child, Running Wild” (1969). “Cloud Nine” is a clear demonstration of the change in the core sound heard on previous tracks. This was radical for Motown. The track was a marked departure from the standard Temptations signature sound, with its heavy use of congas and wah-wah pedals, accompanied by a driving guitar sound and a harder beat propelled by stomping drum strokes as opposed to pianos and lush strings. Norman Whitfield decided to use other musicians such as Bob Babbitt and drummer Uriel Jones to develop his musical vocabulary and vision.
Jones’ landmark drumming style is clearly demonstrated on “Cloud Nine”, with a dynamic back beat and high-hat insistent rhythm. Uriel Jones has described how Whitfield came into the studio and said “I want do something different”. According to Jones, each session would start with himself creating beats on cymbal, in the process of developing the sound he was looking for. Whitfield would tell him to play for two to three minutes by himself and then requested the addition of a certain beat on the foot pedal. As soon as Jones had developed the groove that Whitfield imaged in his mind, he told the other members of The Funk Brothers to join in.
“He had in mind what he wanted but the tune really materialised once we started playing it. We’d have as many as 12 or 13 guys in there just grooving on the rhythm. We could play and not even look at one another.”
Norman Whitfield was able to harness the strength of the Funk Brothers to take the Temptations into very different musical territory and set the new tone for Motown, now that Holland, Dozier, Holland had moved on.