Rolling Stones songs: Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)
*Click for MORE ROLLING STONES SONGS 1962-PRESENT
I tell you I am just a fellow with a one track mind/ Whatever it is I want baby I seek and I shall find…
Written by: Whitfield/Strong
Recorded: EMI Pathé Marconi Studios, Paris, France, Oct. 10-Dec. 1977, Jan. 5-March 2 1978
Guest musicians: Ian McLagan (organ)
*Data taken from Martin Elliott’s book THE ROLLING STONES COMPLETE RECORDING SESSIONS 1962-2012
The song is about a guy who is madly in love with a girl, but they’re only together in his imagination. Every day, he watches her walk by his window, and in his reverie he pictures their life together. In reality, she doesn’t even know him.
Motown writers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote “Just My Imagination” in the late ’60s, but since psychedelic songs were popular at the time, they decided to wait a few years before releasing it. Whitfield pulled it out of the mothballs after the relative failure of The Temptations’ “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World),” which hit #33 in 1970 (unacceptable by their standards). Whitfield felt they needed to change direction to stay on top of the game, so he steered Temptations away from their string of socially relevant songs and had them record this airy ballad. The strategy worked, and the song rose to #1 in America.
Eddie Kendricks took lead vocals on this track, which ended up being his last single with the group. An original member, Kendricks left The Temptations for a solo career soon after the song was released. With his replacement, Damon Harris, the Temps landed their last big hit in 1972 with “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” which went to #1 in the US. Kendricks had his own chart-topper in 1973 with “Keep On Truckin’.”
“Just My Imagination” was also the last song for group member Paul Williams, who sings the “Every night on my knees I pray,” line. Williams remained on salary as an advisor, but was plagued with personal problems – he was separated from his wife, owed back taxes and was being treated for alcoholism. He committed suicide in 1973 at age 34.
This was the third of four #1 hits by the Temptations. The track was released in February 1971, and took off right away, peaking at #1 in April.
The song was recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit on November 24, 1970, with strings and horns by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra overdubbed later. Guitarists on the session were Dennis Coffey and Eddie Willis. Coffey, a white Funk Brother who later had a hit with “Scorpio,” explained: “I walked in that day, and Norman Whitfield had a chart. So I made up this melodic figure, and Eddie Willis made up this little answering thing to it. We had 11 of the Funk Brothers in there. The producer and arranger were the only other people there, and they kind of coaxed us toward what they were looking for. They told us when they liked a lick we came up with. And I did six songs a day that way.”
The Rolling Stones covered this in 1978 for their album Some Girls. It wasn’t the first time they covered a Temptations song: in 1974 they had a hit with “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” taking it to #17. That song was a good fit for the group’s swaggering rock sound, but without the wistful, lovelorn feel, their take on “Just My Imagination” lost some impact.
“It was anything but romantic,” the song’s writer Norman Whitfield said in More Songwriters On Songwriting. “But it did pretty good in the dollars and cents category.”
The Temptations performed this on The Ed Sullivan Show on January 31, 1971. Instead of doing their famous choreography, they sat on steps, evoking a languid mood that reflected the tensions in the group.
This was used in the season 4 finale of The Office, “Goodbye, Toby.” Darryl sings it at Toby’s goodbye party when Jim almost proposes to Pam.
From the The Rolling Stones – All the Songs book:
At the end of the sixties and the beginning of the seventies, the composer-producer
Norman Whitfield and lyricist Barrett Strong helped the Temptations to widen their
musical horizons, in particular with “Run Away Child, Running Wild,” “Psychedelic Shack,”
and “Ball of Confusion”, which skillfully combine soul and psychedelic rock.
In 1971, with “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” the vocal group
returned to a more “authentic” form of soul and even greater success, with this
new Whitfield.Strong composition topping both the pop and R&B charts in April 1971.
In the song, a man tells of his joy at being in love with (and loved in return by)
a pretty young New York woman—until he realizes that his feelings are
simply a figment of his imagination. Love, fantasy, and an irresistible tune:
after “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” on the album It’s Only Rock ’N’ Roll, here
the Stones dip into the Temptations’ catalog once again. And once again the
choice is a shrewd one.
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