I love the Temptations. One of my earliest childhood memories is of seeing them on our black and white television, on what would have been a repeat of something like the Andy Williams Show or the Perry Como Show. I had never seen or heard anything quite as remarkable as the Temptations in full flight. I was only about four years old, but decided there and then, that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve never really recovered from the later realisation that I wasn’t black, couldn’t sing and couldn’t dance. However, I will stand mano-a-mano with anyone who tries to say that “I Can’t Get Next To You” is anything other than the greatest 7″ single ever.
I also still blub like a baby when Melvin “Blue” Franklin dies at the end of the Temptations miniseries that was issued on DVD a few years back. It’s an annual treat, despite the number of liberties it takes with little things, like the truth. But the soap opera style of the show is exactly what the Temptations needed. There have also been a fair number of memoirs from people directly or vaguely connected to the band, be it the sugar coated Otis Williams version or the disturbing version of the truth put forward by David Ruffin’s girlfriend, Genna Sapia. What has been lacking is a book that actually tries to separate fact from fiction. And this biography certainly does its best to do that.
However, the sheer volume of facts that engulf you is quite overwhelming. The author is determined to squeeze as much information as humanly possible into 300 pages, and before the Temptations even become the Temptations, you’re reeling from trying to remember who did what to who, where and when. So it’s not really one for the casual reader, especially early on when Mr Ribowsky tries to place the Temptations and Motown into their place in social history. However, he has managed to track down and talk to as many people from back in the day as possible (over 100 people were interviewed), and regardless of the loss of drama in the telling, it still makes for a compelling tale.
Surprisingly, given the involvement of sole survivor Otis Williams, it doesn’t pull any punches, either about the personal failings of the various members, or the dubious practices of Berry Gordy and Motown. It’s a far cry from his own eighties reminiscences. Maybe he just decided it was late enough in the game to tell the truth. So we learn more about the violence, debauchery and deaths surrounding the group than ever before, especially those of Paul Williams and David Ruffin, as well as Ruff’s tempetuous affair with the ill fated Tammi Terrell.
Naturally enough, the story starts to pale post the eighties reunion, as the glory days became ever more distant, although the current incarnation of the Temptations released their latest album, Still Here in May 2010. This book may just be another version of the truth, and we’ll see what Richard Street has to say when his book, Ball Of Confusion, comes out, but it’s still an essential addition to the legend of the Temptations, even if fiction is sometimes better than fact.