Motown prided itself on being “The Sound Of Young America”, By the late ‘60s, young America wanted social commentary in their art. The country was-literally-burning thanks to race riots and war protests. Grittier times called for grittier music. “Cloud Nine” marked a gritty, socially conscious left turn for the group that was previously known for stately, smooth tunes like “My Girl” and “Get Ready”. It ushered The Temptations and Motown into a new, tougher phase, brought in some street cred, and arguably extended the shelf lives for both entities.
Dennis Edwards was the guy that vocally led The Temptations through “Cloud Nine” and the ensuing half decade, a period that saw the group release their most artistically daring voice. Edwards and his predecessor, David Ruffin, shared some vocal similarities. However, I’m not so sure the Tempts’ “Psychedelic Soul” period would’ve been what it was had Ruffin not ego tripped his way out of the group and been replaced. Edwards was certainly not the prettiest vocalist the Tempts ever employed, but songs like “Cloud Nine” needed to be sung by someone who could vocalize urgency and pain the way Edwards did.
Is “Cloud Nine” a drug song? Possibly? Almost definitely? Who the hell knows? It sounds trippy enough that you have to figure either The Tempts or writer/producer Norman Whitfield (or, in retrospect, both?) were partaking of some mind-altering substances during the conception and recording of this song.
Fun fact: “Cloud Nine” was Motown’s first Grammy-winning song.