Puzzle People is the eleventh studio album released by American soul quintet The Temptations for the Gordy (Motown) label in 1969. Produced entirely by Norman Whitfield, Puzzle People takes the next step along the path that Cloud Nine started, and takes the Temptations further away from a classic soul sound, and more towards the realm of psychedelic soul. Although a few ballads, including “Running Away (Ain’t Gonna Help You)”, are still present, the album is primarily composed of Sly & the Family Stone/James Brown-derived proto-funk tracks such as the lead single “Don’t Let the Joneses Get You Down”, and the number-one Billboard Pop hit “I Can’t Get Next to You“. Also included are psychedelic-styled covers (recorded with distorted guitars, clavinets, and spacy reverb and sound effects) of contemporary songs such as The Isley Brothers‘ “It’s Your Thing“, The Beatles‘ “Hey Jude“, and Roger Miller‘s “Little Green Apples“.
As opposed to the recordings of the David Ruffin/”Classic 5″ era, the lead vocals here are frequently traded back and forth between the group members, with each of the two singles featuring all five Temptations on lead, and Dennis Edwards, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams dominating most of the leads on the album tracks.
The lyrics on some of the original numbers, written by former Motown artist Barrett Strong, were becoming increasingly socially conscious and political. “Slave” deals with the injustice in the prison system, while “Message From a Black Man” is a Black power song with a militant refrain: “no matter how hard you try/you can’t stop me now.” “Message From a Black Man” was a popular radio request in 1969, although the Temptations themselves, who thought the record too forward, never performed it live.
Puzzle People was released on the same day (September 23, 1969) as Together, a duets album of covers by the Temptations and labelmates Diana Ross & the Supremes. It peaked into the Top 5 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, and spent fifteen weeks at number one on the R&B Albums chart.