Some tunes stand the test of time, like “My Girl” and the same can be said about some groups. When you hear the melodies and incomparable classic of the Temptations today you immediately think of the greatest group of voices that ever sang a song.
The Grammy-Winning Temptations achieved their legendary fame as one of the most successful acts to record for Motown Records. It’s rare for someone to change the course of time but this group changed the face of music. Often imitated but rarely duplicated!
The original group included second tenor/baritone Otis Williams, first tenor Elbridge “Al” Bryant, bass Melvin Franklin, first tenor/falsetto Eddie Kendricks and second tenor/baritone Paul Williams (no relation to Otis). Among the most notable future Temptations were lead singers David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards both of whom became successful Motown solo artists after leaving the group. Other members included Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Theo Peoples, G.C. Cameron and about fifty members total over time.
The history of the Temptations started in Detroit the home of Motown Records around 1961 as the Elgins. Overtime, as members came and went the new members carried the torch with finesse for decades. I would say this was accomplished because of the group’s mantra was “no one member is bigger than the group” and although the lineup frequently changed their impeccable sound did not.
A Motown-centric biography on the Temptations would start pretty glumly. Success eluded the group at first. Working at Motown was a “Dream Come True,” but even that song didn’t bring lasting fame. In 1963, a violent scuffle between Elbridge Bryant and Paul Williams preceded “Al’s” exit. Enter David Ruffin whose weathered tenor injected intriguing angst into the sweetest songs.
The Temptations with David Ruffin and new tunes by Smokey Robinson was the injection of magic and the just kept coming. The Kendricks led song, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” broke pop’s Top 20 and “My Girl,” 1964 became their signature. Meanwhile, Ruffin switched off with Kendricks at lead was like nothing that has come before or since.
Norman Whitfield, a rival producer, offered brawnier hits than Robinson’s, like “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” By the late ’60s, his collaborations with Eddie Holland, and Barrett Strong, had earned him exclusive control over the music of the Temptations.
The group developed its own recognizable style. The Temptations wardrobe ran the fashion gamut: tuxedos, capes, leather, linen, blues, limes, you name it. But the Tempts always looked sharp and fun in their costumes. Eddie Kendricks held some sway over this easy sophistication.
Under the direction of Broadway hoofer Cholly Atkins, the Temptations became renowned dancers, as well. Daily two-hour rehearsals ensured their movements were precise and spectacular enough to rivet fans from bare stages. Paul Williams’ choreography, including the Temptation Walk, oozed sheer erotic energy.
Onstage, group harmony ruled. Offstage, conflicts abounded, particularly between Ruffin and the others. Too much ego and flakiness cost him his membership in 1968. Though he released his own smash, “My Whole World Ended,” solo super-stardom was not meant to be.
Enter, ex-Contour Dennis Edwards’ convincing vocals, new songs by the Temptations re-emphasized the ensemble. Whitfield’s ambitious “psychedelic soul” phase fused denser grooves with sociopolitical observations, helping fans dance and think at once. Commercially, the Tempts stayed put on “Cloud Nine.”
In 1971 brought both returns and departures after “Just My Imagination,” a throwback to their tender ballads. Exit Eddie Kendricks for a solo career and the disco-esque hits, “Keep on Truckin'” and “Boogie Down.” Exit Paul Williams died as a result of suicide. Two new tenors, Richard Street and Damon Harris gamely met the challenge and held their own against the older classics.
In 1975 things shifted from Harris to Glenn Leonard. Then from Dennis Edwards to Louis Price to Dennis Edwards (who’d leave and come back several times). Then from Motown to Atlantic in 1977, then back to Motown in the early ’80s. Just in time for a reunion tour with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks!
Enter the great Ali Ollie Woodson who played an integral part in keeping the Temptations from becoming just a nostalgia act. I would refer to him as the Temptations Temptation. I mean this in the sense that by the early 1980s, the Temptations were no longer posting hit after hit as they had in the 1960s and ’70s with songs like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “My Girl,” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” They soared once again with Ali!
In 1989, in flesh and in spirit, the six classic members shared the stage once more at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Smooth spokesman Otis Williams, beloved Batman fanatic Melvin Franklin, ethereally elegant Eddie Kendricks, dynamic David Ruffin, and hard-hitting Dennis Edwards all accepted the award post harmoniously for the late Paul Williams.
All I can say is thanks for the spirit of these great men for their contribution to the world. The Temptations will live for all times. Thank you fellas! And that’s my thought Provoking Perspective…