Rolling Stone may have once listed "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" as number 389 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, but for the past two months it's been number one on my playlist. The reason, of course, is that this 1971 Temptations song figures very prominently inBroke-ology, and ever since I heard it at an early rehearsal I simply cannot erase it from my mind.
The other night, during an intermission of the show, I learned with relief that I was not alone. Janice Smith, a theatergoer with whom I struck up a conversation, told me that after she saw Broke-ology for the first time -- she was back for a reprise with her 17-year-old son -- she could not rid herself of the Temptations tune for two weeks. "It's more unshakeable than Gypsy!" she said with a laugh. "More indelible than 'Single Ladies'! More un-budgeable than 'Rappers' Delight'!"
Smith and I continued compiling our Deep Groove Hall of Fame for a minute. Then this Bronx native confessed: "I was in the audience when the Temptations performed 'Just My Imagination' on The Ed Sullivan Show. It was the winter of 1971, I think. I loved that program -- I learned so much about different kinds of music from it." [Fun fact for Lincoln Center Theater lovers: the debut broadcast of "Sullivan" on TV, on June 20, 1948, featured Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis performing along with Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II in a preview of a little show they were working on called...South Pacific.]
Smith continued: "I was a 16 when I saw the Temptations that night on 'Sullivan,' and I was thrilled. They also did 'Get Ready.' It was a bittersweet occasion."
Why? "Because when the single was released Eddie Kendricks, who's the featured vocalist on 'Imagination,' was getting ready to leave the group to pursue a solo career. The Sullivan show was Eddie's final television appearance with the group. I always had a little thing for him. He was so smooth!"
I asked Smith if she had heard any of the other versions of the song - by the Rolling Stones or Boyz II Men or Gwyneth Paltrow and Babyface.
"Sacrilege! That's one song that everyone else should just leave alone. It was perfect in its original version."
Too perfect, I suggest.
"Yes," she replied. "By coming back to see Broke-ology, I'll have the damn song on my brain for at least another month."
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com.