Synopsis of Pop Music
"You coulda been anything that you wanted to, I can tell,
The way you do the things you do..."
Fans around the world refer to the Temptations as the ‘Emperors of Soul.’ They do this with good reason: This harmony-driven soul group is one of the longest-lasting and most successful groups of its kind. The Temptations are also one of the most versatile soul groups, capable of tackling everything from elegant Broadway standards to gritty, danceable funk. No matter what kind of song they sing, they do it with a distinctive sense of style that has kept them on the charts for the last four decades.
The Temptations began when members of two vocal groups—the Primes and the Distants—decided to join forces. These doo-wop fans began recording a string of gritty r&b singles leavened with sharp harmonies for Motown in 1961. They also refined their vocal and dance chops for the next few years in Motown package tours around the country. Their hard work paid off when Smokey Robinson wrote a song for them called “The Way You Do The Things You Do”. Eddie Kendricks’ honey-sweet tenor led the group’s tight harmonies through the clever wordplay of this tune and made it their first pop hit.
Throughout 1964, the Temptations toured the U.S. steadily and stayed in the charts with bouncy pop-soul songs like “I’ll Be In Trouble” and “Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue).” The next year, the group scored their first #1 hit with “My Girl.” This Smokey Robinson tune extolled the charms of a lover in charmingly poetic style and was anchored by a gritty, soulful lead vocal from David Ruffin. They continued to chart for the rest of the year with mid-tempo tunes like “It’s Growing” and “My Baby.” They also scored a memorable, soulful ballad hit with “Since I Lost My Baby.”
1966 began with a Top-30 hit in “I’m Ready,” a love song with a propulsive but elegant groove. David Ruffin soon took the fore as the group began to work with a new writer/producer, Norman Whitfield. Ruffin's gospel-fueled tenor lead the group on pop classics like the danceable “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and the swinging “Beauty’s Only Skin Deep.” The year ended with a Top-10 hit in the heartbroken “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” In 1967, the group dominated the pop charts with “All I Need” and “You’re My Everything,” and also recorded a standards album, In A Mellow Mood.
David Ruffin left the group in 1968 to pursue a solo career after two final hits, the tearful “I Wish It Would Rain” and “I Could Never Love Another.” He was replaced with another gospel-styled vocalist, Dennis Edwards. The arrival of Edwards coincided with a new era for the Temptations in which they would tackle hard-hitting social topics in their songs and develop a funkier, more psychedelic style. The group debuted this new persona on “Cloud Nine,” a psychedelic tale of inner city woes driven by a hard-rocking guitar. It became a #6 hit and began the new phase of their career in style.
1969 overflowed with hits for the Temptations. After “Cloud Nine,” the Temptations joined the Supremes for a television special, scoring a #2 hit with a duet on “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” The Temptations also tackled social topics like runaways and the ‘rat race’ with hard-grooving “Runaway Child, Runnin’ Wild” and horn-driven “Don’t Let The Joneses Get You Down.” However, they scored their biggest hit with a traditional love-themed dance tune, “I Can’t Get Next To You.” The group also performed at the birthday party for President Richard Nixon’s daughter that year.
The Temptations stayed firmly in their psychedelic bag in 1970, scoring Top-10 hits with hard-rocking funk tunes like “Psychedelic Shack” and “Ball Of Confusion (That’s What The World Is Today).” Eddie Kendricks left the group to pursue solo work in 1971. Before he left, he sang the lead vocal on the lush ballad hit “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” Paul Williams also had to retire from active duty as a Temptation, but continued to supervise the group’s choreography. The group moved on with new members and scored a Top-20 hit with “Superstar (Remember Who You Are).”
In 1972, the Temptations recorded their finest socially-conscious tune, “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” This tale of inner-city family woe was supported by an elegant sound that combined lush orchestral touches with gritty funk. The 11-minute album version, a soul symphony in itself, was edited down to a six-minute single and became a #1 hit around the world at the end of the year. Its B-side, an instrumental version of the song, also won a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental. The group continued in this style in 1973 with another similarly-epic Top-10 hit about city life, “Masterpiece.”
The Temptations continued to score hits throughout the mid-1970’s with sweet ballads like “Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)” and funky dance songs like “Shakey Ground.” The group left Motown for a brief spell at the end of the 1970’s, but returned in 1980 to record the successful Power album. In 1982, Ruffin and Kendricks briefly returned in 1982 for the Reunion album, which included the Rick James-produced r&b hit “Standing On The Top”. The next year, the group performed with the Four Tops on the Motown 25th Anniversary Special.
In the mid-1980’s, the Temptations divided their time between performing and recording. They regularly appeared on television in shows like 227 and Moonlighting, backing Moonlighting co-star Bruce Willis on his version of “Under The Boardwalk” in 1986. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, and their classic hit “My Girl” was used as the theme song for a hit comedy of the same name in 1991. They also received their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994.
Co-founder and longtime anchor of the group Melvin Franklin died in 1995 from heart failure. However, Otis Williams continues to keep the group together with new members. The modern-day Temptations blend their traditional vocal-harmony style with modern elements like hip-hop, maintaining a busy schedule of performing and recording. Most recently, they gave a rousing performance during the halftime show at Superbowl XXXII in 1998 and also scored a notable hit album with Phoenix Rising. This continued success proves that, after more than forty years, the Tempations are and will remain ‘Emperors Of Soul.’
Artist Release History1964 - Meet the Temptations
1965 - Sing Smokey
1965 - The Temptin' Temptations
1966 - Gettin' Ready
1967 - Temptations Live!
1967 - With a Lot o' Soul
1967 - In a Mellow Mood
1967 - TV Show
1968 - The I Wish It Would Rain
1968 - I Wish It Would Rain
1968 - The Supremes Join the Temptations
1968 - Live at the Copa
1969 - Cloud Nine
1969 - The Temptations Show
1969 - Puzzle People
1969 - On Broadway
1970 - Psychedelic Shack
1970 - Live at London's Talk of the Town
1970 - The Christmas Card
1970 - Together
1971 - The Sky's the Limit
1972 - Solid Rock
1972 - All Directions
1973 - Masterpiece
1973 - Zoom
1973 - 1990
1973 - Anthology
1975 - Song for You
1975 - House Party
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsThe Ultimate Collection (Motown)
Band MembersEddie Kendricks (1961-71, 1982) vocals
Otis Williams vocals
Melvin Franklin (1961-95) vocals
Paul Williams (1961-71) vocals
Eldridge Bryant (1961-63) vocals
David Ruffin (1963-68, 1982) vocals
Dennis Edwards (1968-78, 1980-84, 1987-89) vocals
Damon Harris (1971-75) vocals
Richard Street (1971-93) vocals
Ricky Owens (1971) vocals
Glenn Leonard (1975-83) vocals
Louis Price (1978-80) vocals
Ron Tyson (1983- ) vocals
Ali Ollie-Woodson (1984-86, 1989-96) vocals
Theo Peoples (1993-98) vocals
Ray Davis (1995-96) vocals
Harry McGilberry (1996- ) vocals
Terry Weeks (1997- ) vocals
Barrington Henderson (1998- ) vocals