The fact is that I have mentioned The Temptations at least six dozen times in this blog. And yet, I’m going to do it again, for J. Eric Smith’s favorite songs by favorite artists.
Not many groups of 60 years can claim an original member, Otis Williams! In fact, I was fascinated by how the Elgins/Primes featured Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. Otis Williams & The Siberians/The El Domingoes included Elbridge “Al” Bryant, Richard Street, Melvin Franklin, and of course, Otis.
The early Temps were Al, Eddie, Melvin, Otis, and Paul. But Al left and David Ruffin took over. The first classic lineup was formed. By 1968, David left and Dennis Edwards took his slot. At about the same time, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong started writing more “relevant” songs for the group, produced by Whitfield.
In 1971, Eddie left to pursue a solo career, replaced briefly by Ricky Owens, then Damon Harris. Paul’s addiction problem was getting the best of him, with Richard Street, one of the Siberians, singing Paul’s parts from off-stage. Then Richard replaced Paul, who died in 1973. Glenn Leonard took over for Damon in 1975. Louis Price replaced Dennis in 1977, but Dennis came back in 1980.
This set the stage for the Reunion tour, where Dennis, Otis, Glenn, Richard, and Melvin were joined by Eddie and David. I saw this performance at the Colonie Coloseum in Albany County in 1982. It was one of the two or three greatest concerts I’ve seen in my life. First, they sang together, then in groups of five. They started with the first classic lineup, Richard in for the late Paul. Then Dennis went in for David, then Glenn supplanted Eddie. They closed singing together.
I saw them about two years later in Heritage Park, a baseball stadium. It was a lesser show, even though it included the Four Tops as well. The lineup was Ali-Ollie Woodson, Ron Tyson, Otis, Richard, and Melvin. The problem in part was that the singers were so far away. The 2020 lineup is Otis, Ron, Terry Weeks, Willie Green, and a new guy, Mario Corbino.
So why The Tempations then in this past decade? I think it’s something else J. Eric Smith wrote about, comfort music. He defined it as “Music that provides consolation or feeling of well-being, typically any with a highly melodic or other pleasing content and associated with childhood or music played by one’s family.” For me, that would be Motown, roughly from 1964 to 1972, when the label moved to Los Angeles. And it was the Temptations who were most consistent, to my ear, throughout the period.
I could have picked 40 more. All four of their #1 pop hits are here.
Ball of Confusion, #3 for three weeks pop, #2 for 5 weeks soul in 1970.
Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), #1 for two weeks pop, #1 for 3 weeks soul in 1971. Eddie Kendricks’ swan song with the group.
(I Know) I’m Losing You, #8 pop, #1 for two weeks soul in 1966.
No More Water In The Well – a cut from With a Lot O’ Soul album, which is probably my favorite LP of theirs.
My Girl, #1 pop, #1 for five weeks soul in 1965. On the Temptations anthology, there’s a lovely a capella version.
Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, #13 pop, #1 for eight weeks soul in 1966. Appeared on The Big Chill soundtrack in 1983.
I Wish It Would Rain, #4 pop, #1 for three weeks soul in 1968.
Papa Was A Rolling Stone, #1 pop, #5 soul in 1972. Dennis Edwards reportedly was getting really irritable in the studio about the length of the intro before he got to sing, which may have been the producer’s intent, to get the snarl in “It was the third of September”
The Way You Do The Things You Do, #11 pop, #1 soul in 1964. Their first real hit, with that Smokey Robinson poetry
I Can’t Get Next To You, #1 for two weeks pop, #1 for 5 weeks soul in 1969. The best use of that five lead vocalist thing that Whitfield stole from Sly Stone