The group with "five lead singers" - David Ruffin (replaced by Dennis Edwards in 1968), Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin - the temptin' Temptations was THE male vocal group of the '60s and the early-'70s. Mellifluous harmonies, dynamic dance steps, and killer material provided primarily by Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield (with co-writers Eddie Holland and Barrett Strong) yielded 43 Top Ten hits over 25 years, 36 of which are included on the spectacular recent double-CD collection My Girl: The Very Best of the Temptations.
After recording a series of unsuccessful singles with Motown beginning in 1962, the Tempt's hooked up with Smokey Robinson for their first smash "The Way You Do the Things You Do" in 1964.
Smokey and the group then cranked out hit after hit, including their signature tune, "My Girl." The intro is instantly-recognizable genius: the three-note bass line repeated, the ascending guitar line that feels like home, the swanky finger snaps, the drum break. Then David Ruffin enters with his greatest vocal - a gospel-tinged reverie of private sunshine, warmth and honeyed music, hovering above a cushion of Temptin' harmonies where "Under the Boardwalk" meets "I Only Have Eyes For You."
Robinson ended his run with the Temptations with the aggressive, even menacing "Get Ready" in '66: chattering sax, a charging beat and Eddie Kendricks' falsetto soaring through a great chorus give his lover fair warning that wildness awaits her upon his arrival.
Then Norman Whitfield entered the picture. Whitfield stands as the most adventuresome and funky of the giant Motown songwriter/producers; his greatest work, including seven years of hits with the Temptations, ranks among the finest pop music of the last fifty years.
Whitfield was born in Harlem in 1943 where he developed twin interests in music and billiards. Whitfield's family fortuitously ended up in Detroit when his father's car broke down on the way back to New York from an aunt's funeral in California.
By the age of 18, Whitfield had already written and produced local hits for the Distants and the Synetics. The persistent, observant youth could be found loitering about the Motown office, "always staring at something," Berry Gordy told Nelson George in Where Did Our Love Go?