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Tempted: The Story of the Temptations

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Hello Blogcritics readers. This is my first submission to BC so I wanted to make it a special post and write about my all-time favorite group: The Temptations (a topic which BC curiously had yet to cover). While I’ve disliked recent trends in pop music, I love the classic artists like Elton John, Joni Mitchell, and Stevie Wonder, and with 22 top ten tracks and 31 top ten albums, I thinks it’s fair to say The Tempts qualify.

The Temptations was created when two bands, The Primes and The Distants, merged around 1960 forming The Elgins. From The Primes came Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams with Otis Williams, Elbridge Bryant, and Melvin Franklin coming from The Distants. The Elgins auditioned for Motown in 1961 and were added to the roster under their new name with Paul Williams initially singing lead. The Temptations sound was there for the most part but it wasn’t until three years later that they had a hit.

In 1964 The Temptations had their first hit with Eddie Kendricks singing falsetto lead on a Smokey Robinson-penned song, The Way You Do The Things You Do. This track, along with the replacement of Elbridge Bryant by David Ruffin, marked the start of the ‘Classic Five’ period. Until 1966, Kendricks sang most of the lead vocals and the songs were largely produced and written by Smokey Robinson. This ended when Robinson was replaced by Norman Whitfield as producer after Get Ready failed to reach the Top 20. Whitfield’s first single with the group was ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, sung by David Ruffin and produced to have a grittier sound than Robinson’s ballad like productions.

Songs with Ruffin performed well on the charts and he sang lead on many of the group’s biggest hits including “My Girl,” “All I Need,” and “I Wish It Would Rain” all under the supervision of the group’s new producer. Ruffin’s voice became the voice of The Temptaions, singing lead on almost all of their singles between 1966 and his departure from the group, but he was also difficult to get along with. This, combined with the fact that he was contracted separately with Motown, led to his removal from the group and replacement by Dennis Edwards in 1968.

Around the same time Whitfield, inspired by the new “San Fransisco Sound” (particularly Sly and the Family Stone) steered the group in a new direction. The new influence can be heard most clearly on songs like “Cloud Nine and “Runaway Child, Running Wild.” Songs like these, combined with songs in the more traditional Motown style, were a sound now called “Psychedelic Soul” and it was not limited to The Temptations; similar changes can be heard in the music of Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye. While musically the group remained powerful, there continued to be troubles within. Edwards was a fine replacement for Ruffin but Williams, who suffered from sickle-cell disease and alchoholism, had to have someone else (former Distant, Richard Street) sing his parts live and ultimately stop touring altogether.

The group had their second dry spell in the second half of the ’70s. Kendricks had left the group in 1971 as had Williams, and they were now with Atlantic Records rather than Motown. They continued to make good music in thier “Psychedelic Soul” style but they weren’t making hits any more. Upon their return to Motown, however, things were looking up and their 1982 Reunion album featuring Kendricks and Ruffin made it to the top ten.

And that’s their story. The one surviving member of the Classic Five, Otis Williams, continues to tour with a variety of musicians (22 people have performed as a member of The Temptations) singing music from the catalog.

Now, the fun part: why they are my favorite group. On my blog, at the very bottom of the page, are three things you should know about music; the second reads “Perfectly Executed Vocal Harmonies Never Go Out Of Style.” I first got interested in music when I heard the way John Coltrane arranged the horns on the tune “Blue Train” and my love of great harmonies never waned. The Tempts’ vocal harmonies go a long, long way with me; that’s a lot of what makes them stand out from other Motown artists for me.

Thanks for reading and happy listening.

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