Candor can often be sweet, but also brutal, even humorously so. Such is the case with another number one hit by the Temptations.
Released in 1966 by Motown Records, Beauty is Only Skin Deep went number 3 on the pop charts and number 1 on the R&B charts. It was a smash hit that had a simple message:
If you’re lookin for a lover
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Now, practically speaking as a heteronormative cisgender male, I personally would not be brave (read, foolish?) enough to tell someone I am romantically interested in that “a pretty face you may not possess / But what I like about you is your tenderness.” I don’t know a human being on this planet who does not like to hear praises sung to him/her (and yes, actually sung). Yes, people are different, and sincerity matters, and what is being praised, all matter. If we can be intuitive though, people would rather not receive back-handed compliments, and the statement that one makes up for a less-than-ugly face with tenderness can be confounding. Even if, “good looks, I’ve learned to do without / Cause now I know it’s love that really counts,” I would propose that some lessons are better kept to oneself.
That said, the song has an important message for the many who fall prey to evolution’s scheming for the best and healthiest gene pool (and yes, I’ll take a rather democratic and humanistic approach rather than an evolutionary or utilitarian one): Beauty is Only Skin Deep. True love counts. How one treats the other, and how the other treats one, really amount to something. Beauty traditionally and aesthetically — and in this case, myopically — conceived stops with the epidermis. After all, the song warns, “she may be fine on the outside / but so untrue on the inside.”
Thankfully, the production of this hit helps save these incisive lyrics from becoming misconstrued. It is bright, upbeat, and full of cheery backup vocal call-and-response. Its message is respectable: one cannot find love in aesthetic beauty alone, and one must consider the deeper value of love and tenderness and a “pleasin’ personality” for a fulfilling and lasting relationship. It has what one can understand as a generally good sentiment for a member of society to have;
As the song itself quotes, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Let us then, heed to the song’s creed, also, and not judge this song by its lyrics alone. After all, it rose to the top of the charts and remains a legendary hit for many good reasons.