A 50th Anniversary in Song

In the coming week we will learn what PM Netanyahu has to say to Congress, hear the oral arguments before the Supreme Court on King v Burwell, reach another deadline for funding of the Department of Homeland Security and celebrate one of the most historic moments of the Civil Rights Era in Selma, Alabama. An awful lot of the news today is actually preparation for those events.

So I’d like to end this weekend’s blogging by joining Leonard Pitts on a lighter note in celebrating another 50th anniversary.

There are sounds it feels like you’ve known forever, sounds that have been in your ear so long, it’s hard to believe they were ever new. One of those sounds is this:

James Jamerson thumps a heartbeat on the bass. Robert White’s guitar corkscrews out in reply. And the immortal David Ruffin sings, in a voice of sweetness shadowed by sorrow, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.”

Hard to believe that sound was ever new, but it was. Released four days before Christmas in 1964, My Girl by the Temptations reached the top of the pop charts in the first week of March — 50 years ago this week. Maybe you remember hearing it during that portentous late winter when Malcolm X had just been killed, and Martin Luther King’s forces were gathering on a bridge in a town called Selma.

If so, you are probably humming it right now, recalling the airtight harmonies and the way the horns and strings danced elegant pirouettes of sound.

Or maybe you were born years later, during the energy crisis, or around the time of the Challenger disaster or even in that more-recent era when Bryant Gumbel found it necessary to ask Katie Couric, “What is Internet, anyway?” Doesn’t matter. You’re humming it, too.

My Girl is one of those songs everybody knows. It is the most perfect thing ever recorded.

As an old-timer, I happen to agree with Pitts. You young whipper-snappers (see how old I am?) are free to disagree. But you’ll have to make the case that your alternative will mark your generation as gracefully and enduringly as My Girl.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.