|Also known as||Otis Williams & the Siberians, The Primes, The Distants, Otis Williams & the Distants, The Elgins, The Pirates|
|Labels||Warwick, Gordy, Motown, Atlantic, New Door/Universal|
|Associated acts||The Supremes
The Temptations Review
|Elbridge "Al" Bryant (deceased)
Melvin Franklin (deceased)
Eddie Kendricks (deceased)
Paul Williams (deceased)
David Ruffin (deceased)
Ricky Owens (deceased)
Ray Davis (deceased)
Harry McGilberry (deceased)
Barrington "Bo" Henderson
G. C. Cameron
The Temptations are an American vocal group that achieved fame as one of the most successful acts to record for Motown. The group's repertoire has included, at various times during its five-decade career, R&B, doo-wop, funk, disco, soul, and adult contemporary music.
Formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1960 as The Elgins, the Temptations have always featured at least five male vocalists/dancers. The group, known for its recognizable choreography, distinct harmonies, and flashy onstage suits, has been said to be as influential to soul as The Beatles are to pop and rock. Having sold tens of millions of albums, the Temptations are one of the most successful groups in music history and were the definitive male vocal group of the 1960s. In addition, they have the second-longest tenure on Motown behind Stevie Wonder, as they were with the label for a total of 40 years: 16 years from 1961 to 1977, and 24 more from 1980 to 2004 (from 1977 to 1980, they were signed to Atlantic Records). As of 2009, the Temptations continue to perform and record for Universal Records with the one living original member, co-founder Otis Williams, still in its lineup.
The original group included members of two local Detroit vocal groups: from The Distants, second tenor Otis Williams, first tenor Elbridge "Al" Bryant and bass Melvin Franklin; and from The Primes, first tenor/falsetto Eddie Kendricks and second tenor/baritone Paul Williams (no relation to Otis). Among the most notable future Temptations were lead singers David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards (both of whom became successful Motown solo artists after leaving the group), Richard Street (another former Distant), Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Theo Peoples, and G. C. Cameron. Like its sister female group, the Supremes, the Temptations' lineup has changed frequently particularly in recent decades.
Over the course of their career, the Temptations have released four Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles and 14 Billboard R&B number-one singles. Their material has earned them three Grammy Awards, while two more awards were conferred upon the songwriters and producers who crafted their 1972 hit "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone". The Temptations were the first Motown act to earn a Grammy Award. Six Temptations (Dennis Edwards, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Otis Williams, and Paul Williams) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Three classic Temptations songs, "My Girl", "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
Childhood friends Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Kel Osbourne, and Wiley Waller formed a doo-wop group called the Cavaliers in their hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, in 1955. Reduced to a trio after Waller left the group in 1957, Kendricks, Williams, and Osbourne left Birmingham in order to break into the music business. After first moving to Cleveland, Ohio, they settled in Detroit. The Primes, as the doo-wop trio was now called, were well-known around Detroit for their meticulous performances. Group manager Milton Jenkins even created a sister group for the Primes called the Primettes, recruiting Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diane (later Diana) Ross, and Betty McGlown for the spin-off act. Eddie Kendricks was already becoming a local "Matinee Idol", and Paul Williams was known for his powerful baritone voice, having an adult style even as a teenager.
Otis Williams had moved from his native Texarkana, Texas to Detroit as a young boy, to live with his mother. By 1958, he was the leader of Otis Williams & the Siberians, a doo-wop group that included Williams, his friend Elbridge "Al" Bryant, James "Pee-Wee" Crawford, Vernard Plain, and Arthur Walton. This quintet recorded the single "Pecos Kid" backed with "All of My Life" for a label run by local radio deejay Senator Bristol Bryant. The single never took off outside the local Detroit market, and the Siberians changed their name to The El Domingoes shortly afterward.
At this time, more changes took place. Montgomery, Alabama native Melvin Franklin replaced Arthur Walton as the bass singer and Franklin's cousin, Detroit-born Richard Street, replaced Vernard Plain as lead singer. The group soon signed with Northern Records, run by Johnnie Mae Matthews, who renamed the group The Distants. The Distants recorded two singles for Northern, "Come On" (1959, featuring additional background vocals by the Andantes), and "Alright" (1960). Between these two releases, Albert "Mooch" Harrell replaced Pee-Wee Crawford. "Come On" was a local hit for the Distants, and the Warwick label picked the record up for national distribution. After the release of "Alright", Matthews appointed Williams the group leader, and the group was renamed Otis Williams & the Distants. Though Otis Williams had a pleasant, but unremarkable, lead voice, he organized the group and so became the defacto leader, as he would later with the Temptations.
The Primes and the Distants were influenced by several Detroit groups, the most famous of which was the Miracles led by Smokey Robinson. The Miracles were known for their stage show, and their pop success was something for which both groups strived. Other important inspirations included the Cadillacs, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, the Drifters, and the Isley Brothers.
The various members of the Primes and the Distants, who would later become part of the Temptations, met a number of their future Motown bandmates, labelmates, and producers during the early part of their careers. Melvin Franklin had been a member of the recording group the Voice Masters, which also included among its ranks Lamont Dozier, his cousin David Ruffin, and another cousin, Jackie Wilson. The musicians at the recording session for the Distants' "Come On" included James Jamerson on bass, the Andantes on background vocals, and future Temptations producer Norman Whitfield on tambourine.
Although "Come On" was a local hit in the Detroit area, the Distants never saw much of their share from the record sales, and the second single was not as successful. After receiving an offer from Berry Gordy of Motown Records, the group got out of its contract with Matthews and left Northern. At the same time, it lost Mooch Harrell, Richard Street, and the rights to use its name. Street would front a new group of Distants for the local Thelma label during the early 1960s.
The Distants were acquainted with the Primes, as both groups made the same types of talent shows, and concerts. The two groups were friendly rivals, with the Primes being the more polished and stronger vocal performers. The Primes disbanded in 1960 when Kel Osbourne moved to California, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams returned to Alabama. While in Detroit visiting relatives, Kendricks called Otis Williams who, desperately needing two more members for an audition for Gordy, offered Kendricks a lead singer place in the Distants. Kendricks agreed, with one condition—that he could bring Paul Williams with him. Otis Williams happily agreed, and Kendricks and Paul Williams moved back to Detroit to join the new group.
The new lineup of Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Elbridge "Al" Bryant, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams took on the name The Elgins and auditioned for Motown in March 1961. As Gordy was already familiar with Kendricks and Williams from sessions they had done before he had formed Motown, upon which they had lent their talents as backup singers, he then agreed to sign the group to his Miracle Records label. However, just before signing The Elgins to Motown's Miracle Records, Berry Gordy discovered that there was already a singing group with that name. The quintet quickly began tossing about ideas for a new name on the steps of Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters and studio. On a suggestion from Miracle Records employee Billy Mitchell, songwriter Mickey Stevenson, and group members Otis Williams and Paul Williams, The Temptations became the group's new moniker. The "Elgins" name would re-surface at Motown in 1965, when Gordy renamed a quartet called The Downbeats as The Elgins.
Before the Miracle label was closed (to avoid confusion with the Miracles singing group) and merged with the Gordy label, The Temptations released two singles, "Oh Mother of Mine" and "Check Yourself" featuring Paul Williams' powerful lead. All seven of the Temptations' singles released between 1961 and 1963 failed to make it onto the U.S. Hot 100 pop singles charts, the lone exception of missing all the U.S. Top 100 charts being "Dream Come True", a single featuring Eddie Kendricks on lead, which made it to number 22 on the R&B chart in 1962. During that time the group became known as one of the most talented and versatile groups in the country. Paul and Eddie split most of the leads during this period, with the latter becoming the standard for all first tenor/falsetto singers, and the former as an unsurpassed performer. Bryant, Otis Williams, and Franklin occasionally sang lead but the signature sound, both as leads and the core of the famous harmony was the Kendricks/Williams duo.
Many songwriter and producer teams had been trying to craft a hit for the Temptations, including Berry Gordy, Mickey Stevenson, Clarence Paul, and Norman Whitfield. They tried to take the group in several different directions, all in order to find the perfect sound that would put them not only on the U.S. charts (both Pop and R&B), but in the Top 20 as well. One song "Isn't She Pretty" had all five members singing lead (and mainly showcased the lead vocals of ‘Al’ Bryant) and it was a precursor to the multi-lead songs the group would record in the late 60's. The idea of having the group change their name to "The Pirates" was briefly discussed, and they would even record "Mind Over Matter" and "I'll Love You Till I Die" under this name, but to no avail.
In fact, Gordy had originally written "Do You Love Me" for the Temptations in 1961, but when he was unable to get a hold of the group, he recorded the song instead with another Motown-family group, the Contours. William Smokey Robinson, lead singer/songwriter and producer of The Miracles proved to have the best rapport with the group and produced his first Temptations single, "I Want a Love I Can See" in 1963, featuring Paul Williams on lead. Despite their best efforts, however, the group was still unsuccessful in landing in the desired spot on any of the Billboard Hot 100 singles charts in the U.S. As a result, the other acts at Motown would soon give the nickname "The Hitless Temptations" to the group.
About this time, Meridian, Mississippi-born David Ruffin, younger brother of Motown artist Jimmy Ruffin demonstrated his superior performance skills when he joined the Temptations on-stage during a local Detroit performance..
Not long after that, Elbridge Bryant soon became restless and uncooperative, preferring the mundane routine of his day job as a milkman over the rigors of rehearsal and performing. After a heated quarrel following a disastrous performance at the 1963 Motown company Christmas/New Years Eve party, Bryant was summarily fired from the group. As a result, David Ruffin was brought in as his replacement in the early part of 1964. Though both Ruffin brothers were considered for the slot, David was selected due to his superior performance at the local Detroit performance earlier that year. Bryant continued to perform in a number of other local groups, and died at the age of 36 in Flagler County, Florida of liver cirrhosis on October 26, 1975.
In January 1964, Smokey Robinson and Miracles bandmate Bobby Rogers co-wrote and produced "The Way You Do the Things You Do" with Eddie Kendricks on lead and the single became the Temptations' first Top 20 hit that April.
Shortly afterward, "The Way You Do The Things You Do" and several pre-David Ruffin singles were compiled onto the group's first album, Meet The Temptations, released in early 1964. The next two Temptations singles in 1964, "Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)" along with "I'll Be in Trouble" and its better-known B-side "The Girl's Alright With Me", co-written by Kendricks, both featured him on lead. However, producer Smokey Robinson saw potential in the "mellow" yet "gruff" voice of David Ruffin, and thought that if he could write the perfect song for his lead, then the group could have a Top 10 smash hit.
While traveling as part of Motown's Motortown Revue later that year Robinson and another fellow Miracle, Ronnie White, wrote "My Girl", which the group recorded in the fall of 1964, featuring Ruffin performing his first lead vocal for the group. Released as a single on December 24, 1964, the song became the Temptations' first number-one pop hit in March 1965, and is their signature song to this day.
After the success of "My Girl", Ruffin sang lead on the next three singles: "It's Growing", "Since I Lost My Baby" and "My Baby", all of which made it to the Top 20 in 1965. The B-side to "My Baby", "Don’t Look Back", featured a stirring lead from Paul Williams, and was a sleeper hit on the R&B charts and a standard for vocal groups playlists.
Norman Whitfield had requested the opportunity to write for the group and in 1966, he was given what was then considered an almost-opportunity. If Robinson's "Get Ready" with Eddie Kendricks on lead failed to chart in the Top 20, Whitfield would be allowed the next song. "Get Ready" subsequently missed its mark, and Robinson, honoring the pact, allowed Whitfield to produce "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" for the group with David Ruffin on lead. The song was released a few months later, did well, and as a result Whitfield was promoted to a position of the main producer, replacing Smokey Robinson. He began pushing the group away from the ballad-based productions espoused by Robinson, towards a harder-edged and brass-heavy soul sound reminiscent of the work of James Brown.
Nearly all of the singles produced by Whitfield prior to 1968 featured David Ruffin on lead, including the R&B number-one/pop Top 10 hits "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep", "(I Know) I'm Losing You" and the early 1967 hit "(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need". Other important singles from this period include "All I Need", produced by Frank Wilson, a Whitfield protégé, and the incredibly popular, "You're My Everything", on which Kendricks and Ruffin share lead. Studio albums during the "Classic Five" period apart from Meet The Temptations include The Temptations Sing Smokey (1965), The Temptin' Temptations (1965), Gettin' Ready (1966), The Temptations with a Lot o' Soul (1967), and The Temptations Wish It Would Rain (1968).
During this period, the various songwriting partners of Norman Whitfield included Roger Penzabene, Edward Holland, Jr. and Temptations road show manager and guitarist Cornelius Grant. Subsequently, Barrett Strong, who sang the very first hit at Motown in 1959, "Money (That's What I Want)", began working with Whitfield and Penzabene on Temptations material after Eddie Holland left Motown with the rest of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting/production team in 1967. Two of the Whitfield-Strong-Penzabene collaborations, "I Wish It Would Rain" and "I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)", became hits in early 1968 after the untimely suicide of Roger Penzabene in December 1967. Subsequently, Barrett Strong became the sole collaborator of Norman Whitfield.
From early 1964 to mid 1968, the Temptations went from unknown hopefuls to international stars and as a result, appeared frequently on television shows such as American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. At the same time, the group began to achieve a crossover success, catering to middle America with a pop standards album (The Temptations in a Mellow Mood, 1967), the success of which resulted in performances at the famous Copacabana in New York City along with dates at other similar supper clubs. Outside of music, the Temptations were made honorary members of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.
By 1967, David Ruffin, initially laid back and even-keeled, felt that he was almost single-handedly responsible for the increased success of the group, and as a result demanded special treatment. Riding to and from gigs in a private mink-lined limousine with his then-girlfriend, singer Tammi Terrell (known for her duets with Marvin Gaye), instead of in the group limousine used by the other four Temptations, irritated and annoyed the rest of the group. Following Motown's decision to rechristen The Supremes as Diana Ross & the Supremes, Ruffin felt entitled to the same treatment and demanded that his group be renamed as well, to David Ruffin & the Temptations. Ruffin was also causing friction with Berry Gordy by demanding an accounting of the earnings.
Some of this behavior was attributed to the fact that by this time Ruffin had begun using cocaine regularly, building further tension within the group and causing him to miss a number of group meetings, rehearsals, and concerts. There was a general consensus among the rest of the group that Ruffin needed to be replaced. Otis Williams insists that Ruffin was given ample and fair warning that if he did not change his attitude he would be fired. However, when Ruffin missed a June 1968 engagement at a Cleveland supper club in order to attend a show by his new girlfriend Barbara Martin (daughter of Italian-American crooner Dean Martin), it was decided that he had crossed the line. The elder Martin was none too happy about the situation, either.
The other four Temptations drew up legal documentation, officially firing Ruffin from the group, and Dennis Edwards, formerly of the Contours, was hired to replace him. Edwards and Ruffin were good friends, and at first, Ruffin went along with the changing of the guard. After a short time, however, Ruffin began turning up at shows, jumping onstage during performances of the songs he once sang lead on and stealing the spotlight from Edwards. Audiences were delighted, but the annoying behavior caused increasing friction between the group, the label and David Ruffin.
Frustrated and embarrassed by this, both the Temptations and Motown were forced to hire extra security guards to prevent Ruffin from attending other Temptations performances and providing further embarrassment to Edwards and the group. Ruffin then sued Motown in October 1968, seeking a release from the label, but Motown countersued to keep the singer from leaving and the case was eventually settled out of court. The settlement required Ruffin to remain with Motown to finish out his initial contract, but the fact that Ruffin had joined Motown as a solo artist, and always had a separate contract from the other Temptations, was one cause, some felt, for a lot of the in-fighting within the group.
Edwards' first album with the Temptations was Live at the Copa, recorded at the group's return to the famous Copacabana nightclub, and later that year, Berry Gordy commissioned the first of a number of collaborations for the Temptations with Diana Ross & the Supremes. The results included two studio albums, Together) and Diana Ross & the Supremes Join the Temptations, which featured the number-two hit single "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me". The tracks for the latter included Dennis Edwards' first studio recordings with the Temptations and further results of this collaboration included a joint tour and two NBC television specials, TCB (aired December 9, 1968) and G.I.T. on Broadway (aired November 12, 1969).
The addition of Dennis Edwards to the Temptations coincided with the adoption of a new sound for the group by producer Norman Whitfield, and in the fall of 1968, Whitfield began producing psychedelic-based material for the Temptations, derived primarily from the sound of funk band Sly & the Family Stone. This new style, which debuted with the Top 10 hit single "Cloud Nine" in October 1968, was a marked departure from the David Ruffin-era ballads, leading the group to a new and higher plateau. The instrumentation was funkier, the beat was hard-driving, and all five Temptations traded lead vocals, similar to Sly & the Family Stone. "Cloud Nine", the centerpiece of the group's landmark Cloud Nine LP, was a Top 10 hit and won Motown its first Grammy Award, for Best R&B Vocal Group Performance of 1969.
The blending of the Motown sound and psychedelic rock sound resulted in a new subgenre of music called "psychedelic soul", also evident in the work of Diana Ross and the Supremes ("Reflections", "Love Child"), Marvin Gaye's version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", and the music of The 5th Dimension, The Undisputed Truth and The Friends of Distinction. More Temptations psychedelic soul singles would follow in 1969 and 1970, among them "Runaway Child, Running Wild" (a number-one R&B hit), "I Can't Get Next to You" (a number-one pop hit), "Psychedelic Shack" and "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)", but the formula began to wear thin when "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite the World)", only went to #33 Pop in the fall of 1970. The group's other important albums from this period include Puzzle People (1969) and Psychedelic Shack (1970), which includes the original version of "War".
During the late 1960s, Paul Williams developed a raging case of alcoholism, some say as a result of suffering from both depression and sickle-cell disease. As his physical and mental health began to decline sharply, it made performing more and more difficult. Williams kept oxygen tanks out of sight in the wings of performance venue stages, and the other four Temptations made valiant efforts to raid and drain his alcohol stashes.
By 1969, Richard Street, the lead singer of a Motown act entitled The Monitors and a former Distant, was touring with the group as a backup replacement for Williams. For most shows, save for his solo performances, Williams would dance and lip-sync onstage to parts sung live by Street into an offstage mic behind a curtain. At other shows, and during most of the second half of 1970, Street substituted for Williams onstage.
Eddie Kendricks became detached from the group and as the health of Paul Williams continued to fail, regularly had fights with Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin over leadership of the group. In addition, Kendricks preferred the ballad material from the earlier days and was uncomfortable with the psychedelic soul material the group was now performing. As a result, Kendricks rekindled his friendship with former lead singer David Ruffin, who persuaded him to quit the Temptations and go solo. After a November 1970 Copacabana engagement, another confrontation between himself, Otis Williams, and Franklin caused Kendricks to walk out in-between shows and not return. Both Franklin and Otis Williams then agreed that Kendricks would be leaving the group.
In a 1991 interview with Urban Street Magazine Kendricks said he actually started to make the decision to leave the group as early as 1965 because of things that "weren't quite proper", as well as the fact that his relationship with Berry Gordy had been less than cordial. Kendricks, however, initially decided to stay in the group because he was worried he would not get the support he needed if he left. Ultimately, Kendricks was not interested in leaving the group, wanting instead to stay and make a solo album, but this was not allowed.
Before Kendricks officially left the Temptations, he and Paul Williams recorded the lead vocals for "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)", which is a lush, wistful ballad that became a swan song for the Eddie Kendricks era of the Temptations. Included on their famous Sky's the Limit LP along with the original album version of "Smiling Faces Sometimes", "Just My Imagination" was released as a single in January 1971, and the song began steadily climbing the U.S. pop singles chart, peaking at #1 two months later. By the time "Just My Imagination" topped the charts, Kendricks had negotiated his release from the group and signed a solo deal with the Motown family Tamla imprint.
The paranoia-laced "Smiling Faces Sometimes", from the Sky's the Limit LP, featuring Kendricks on lead, was already slated as the follow-up single to the number-one hit "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)", but with Kendricks now gone, and with the group lacking a first tenor to take his place, producer Norman Whitfield was forced to change plans.
The Temptations originally hired Ricky Owens, from the Los Angeles-based vocal group the Vibrations, to replace Kendricks. However, Owens gave poorly-received performances during the few shows he performed with the group, and he was dropped from the group after only a few weeks. For several weeks of the spring of 1971, the Temptations were without a fifth member. Owens meanwhile returned to the Vibrations and died in Los Angeles, California on December 6, 1996 at the age of 57.
Whitfield took the remaining Temptations quartet and re-recorded "It's Summer", the B-side to "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)", as a replacement single, and "Smiling Faces Sometimes" was released as a single for The Undisputed Truth instead, becoming a Top 5 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. Meanwhile, "It's Summer" peaked at number fifty-one on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the first Temptations single to miss the Top 40 since "Farewell My Love" eight years earlier.
After a medical declaration few weeks later that he was unable to continue performing, Paul Williams quit the Temptations in April and Richard Street officially took his place while Williams remained on the group's payroll as an adviser and choreographer. After Williams had recovered enough to perform again, Motown made plans for a Paul Williams solo career, but on August 17, 1973, he died in Detroit at the age of 34, his death ruled a suicide by the Wayne County coroner.
A month later, in May 1971, The Temptations had finally found a permanent replacement for the first tenor position in twenty-year-old Baltimore native Damon Harris. Otis Williams, Edwards, Franklin, Street, and Harris continued recording and performing, and Norman Whitfield continued producing hits for them. Among these were Top 40 hits such as "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)" (1971), a message from the Temptations to David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, and "Take a Look Around" (1972).
The fall of 1972 saw the release of, "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" a magnum opus produced by Norman Whitfield. Originally a three-minute record written and produced for the Undisputed Truth, Whitfield took the sombre tune and created a sprawling, dramatic eleven-and three-quarter-minute version for the Temptations, an example of a format which would become known as one of the earliest examples of an extended single, soon to become popular in clubs and discotheques. An edited seven-minute version was released as a single in September 1972, becoming one of the longest hit singles in music history, hitting number-one on the pop charts and number-five on the R&B charts. Radio DJ's loved the song for its length as much as for the catchy beat and lyrics, as the song's length allowed them to go across the street from the station for a sandwich during their shift and return before the record ended. In 1973, "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" won the Temptations their second Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Group. Whitfield and arranger/conductor Paul Riser won the award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance with the instrumental version of "Papa" on the single's B-side, and Whitfield and Barrett Strong won the songwriters' Grammy for Best R&B Song.
After "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", Whitfield stopped working with Barrett Strong, and began writing the Temptations' material on his own. The success of "Papa" led Whitfield to create more elongated, operatic pieces, including the Top 10 hit "Masterpiece" (1973) and several of the tracks on the resulting Masterpiece album. Tensions developed between Whitfield and the group, who found Whitfield arrogant and difficult to work with, and the group citing his habitual tardiness, his emphasis of the instrumental tracks over the vocals on many of his productions, and the declining singles and albums sales as other sources of conflict, sought to change producers. Otis Williams complained about Whitfield's actions and the Temptations' stagnant sales to Berry Gordy, and as a result, the group was reassigned to Jeffrey Bowen, co-producer of the 1967 In a Mellow Mood album.
The final Norman Whitfield-produced Temptations album, 1990, was released in late 1973, and included the Top 30 single Let Your Hair Down. Shortly afterwards, Whitfield left Motown, and in 1975 established Whitfield Records, taking the Undisputed Truth and Willie Hutch with him, along with Rose Royce who performed the instrumental track for Let Your Hair Down before recording their big hit Car Wash for the movie of the same name a year later in 1976.
Bowen's first LP with the Temptations was January 1975's A Song for You, which included a cover of the titular Leon Russell tune (popularized with soul audiences by Donny Hathaway), along with the pop Top 40/R&B number-one hits "Happy People" (featuring the Commodores as the instrumentalists) and "Shakey Ground" (featuring instrumentation by Parliament-Funkadelic's Eddie Hazel along with Billy Bass Nelson). "Glasshouse", the group's final Top 40 Pop hit was also included. Damon Harris was fired from the group during the recording of A Song for You, as his behavior and work ethic were deemed unprofessional,  and his replacement was Washington, D.C. native Glenn Leonard, formerly of the Unifics.
A number of producers, including Bowen, Brian Holland, James Carmichael, and even the Temptations themselves tried producing hits for the next three LPs, House Party (November 1975), Wings of Love (March 1976), and The Temptations Do the Temptations (August 1976). None of these recordings were as commercially successful as A Song for You however, and none of their associated singles entered the Billboard charts.
As time progressed, Bowen pushed Dennis Edwards further to the front of the group, which was evident on tracks like Wings of Love, featuring Edwards' vocal more prominently than the other Temptations' backing vocals.. Otis Williams felt that this was hurting the group, accused Motown of inattention, and cited this as the reason for the group's declining sales and popularity. After The Temptations Do the Temptations was recorded in 1976, Edwards was fired from the group, and with new lead Louis Price on board, they left Motown for Atlantic Records.
Success continued to elude the group at Atlantic, however. Their two releases on Atlantic -- Hear to Tempt You (1977), and Bare Back (1978), along with their associated singles, had failed to perform any better at Atlantic than their last handful of singles had at Motown. As a result, in 1979, Atlantic released the group from its contract,  and shortly afterwards, the Temptations met once again with Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy, who re-signed the group to Motown in 1980.
Upon the return to Motown several lineup changes occurred. Louis Price departed from the group and joined the Drifters, Dennis Edwards, who had been inactive for the previous three years despite remaining with Motown as a solo act, returned to the lineup and Berry Gordy co-wrote and produced "Power", the Temptations' first single under the new contract. "Power", from the album of the same name, only Bubbled Under the Top 40 of Billboard's Hot 100, but hit number 11 on the R&B charts. Two years of under-performing singles and albums followed, including an eponymous album with Philadelphia-based producer Thom Bell, until Motown began planning a Temptations reunion tour in 1982.
Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin agreed to rejoin the group for the new album entitled Reunion and its subsequent promotional tour, and Melvin Franklin's nephew, Rick James, the Motown funk star who had previously used the Temptations as backup vocalists on his 1981 hit "Super Freak", wrote, produced, and guested on the Reunion album's lead single, "Standing on the Top". The single went to number-six on the R&B charts and featured Ruffin, Kendricks and Edwards trading back and forth on lead.
While the ensuing Reunion tour with all seven Temptations (Ruffin, Kendricks, Otis Williams, Franklin, Edwards, Richard Street, and Glenn Leonard) was financially successful, it ended up being a stressful venture. Kendricks' voice had weakened after decades of chain smoking, and Ruffin, still addicted to drugs, missed a number of the performances due to being incapacitated. At the conclusion of the Reunion tour, Ruffin and Kendricks departed, and they began touring and performing together as a duo.
One more album, Surface Thrills, released in 1983, featured a sharp departure in the group's sound by incorporating elements of then-current rock. Following its release, Glenn Leonard left and was replaced by Ron Tyson, who was with the Philadelphia groups the Ethics and Love Committee. Tyson had been a staff songwriter at Atlantic during the Temptations' tenure at the label, and co-wrote several songs on the album Hear to Tempt You.
By this time, the Temptations' releases were no longer performing well on the pop charts, though some singles stilll made the R&B Top 20. "Love on My Mind Tonight", a single from Surface Thrills, charted at number 17. "Sail Away", produced by a returning Norman Whitfield and featuring Ron Tyson's first lead vocal, peaked at number 13.
Dennis Edwards was fired in 1984 for missing rehearsals or showing up hungover. He then attempted a second solo career, scoring a hit with the 1984 single "Don't Look Any Further", a duet with Siedah Garrett. His place in the Tempations was taken by Ali-Ollie Woodson, a Detroit native who had been a potential candidate to replace Edwards back in 1977. The album Back to Basics, released in 1984, was the first album featuring Ron Tyson on lead, and featured one track with Woodson, "Stop the World Right Here (I Wanna Get Off)". Woodson's first lead on a single was 1984's "Treat Her Like a Lady", co-written by himself and Otis Williams, and co-produced by former Earth, Wind & Fire members Al McKay and Ralph Johnson. The single became their biggest success on R&B radio since 1975, reaching number-two on the R&B charts, and just missing the Pop Top 40 at number 48. The group experienced similar success in 1986 with the single "Lady Soul", another Top 5 R&B smash.
Ollie Woodson remained with the Temptations until 1987, when he was fired and replaced by an again-returning Dennis Edwards and the group recorded one album during Edwards' third tenure, Together Again, released in late 1987. The following year, Otis Williams published his autobiography, Temptations, co-written with Patricia Romanowski, chronicling the careers of the group from the Primes/Distants days to the present, and focusing on the lives of Williams and Melvin Franklin. An updated version of the book was published in 2002.
In late 1989, even though Edwards had already been fired from the group for the third and final time, with Woodson re-joining the lineup, the Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, honoring Edwards, Franklin, Otis Williams, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks (now performing as "Eddie Kendrick"), and, posthumously, Paul Williams. Most of the Temptations, present and former, showed no ill feelings towards one another, although Otis Williams reported that Kendricks would not speak to him during the ceremony. The Temptations ended their induction ceremony with a performance of Paul Williams' signature song, "Don't Look Back", dedicated to his memory.
After reuniting at the induction ceremony, and much to the chagrin of Otis Williams and Motown, Edwards, Ruffin, and Kendrick made plans to tour and record as "Ruffin, Kendrick and Edwards, Former Leads of The Temptations". The tour was in fact carried out, but production on the accompanying album was terminated when 50-year-old David Ruffin died in Philadelphia after a cocaine overdose on June 1, 1991. As if one tragedy at the dawn of the 90's wasn't bad enough, Eddie Kendrick was to be diagnosed with lung cancer soon after. He continued to perform until the very end however, and died at the age of 52 in his native Birmingham on October 5, 1992.
From the 1990s on, the Temptations' lineup began to change more frequently than before. Richard Street missed a performance in 1992 after undergoing emergency surgery to remove kidney stones, Otis Williams was not aware of Street's surgery, and called him, angry about Street's absence, Street felt Williams was unsympathetic, and as a result, he left the group in 1993 after twenty-two years. His replacement was St. Louis native Theo Peoples.
By the early 1990s, bass Melvin Franklin began missing performances due to failing health and Ray Davis, former bass man of Parliament-Funkadelic, began touring as a fill-in in 1993.. Franklin died after suffering a brain seizure at the age of 52 on February 23, 1995, and Davis was named his official replacement. The group subsequently finished production on For Lovers Only, an album of pop standards featuring two tracks recorded with Melvin Franklin prior to his untimely death.
A third personnel tragedy was to befall the group in the 90's as Davis was to receive a diagnosis of lung cancer and left shortly after completing the album. Ray Davis died in New Brunswick, New Jersey of respiratory problems and complications of lung cancer on on the evening of Tuesday July 5, 2005.
Before recruiting bass Harry McGilberry, a former member of the Futures in 1997, the group continued as a quartet for a short time. For Lovers Only would also be the last contribution for lead Ali-Ollie Woodson and he was released from the group in 1996 due to health problems, having suffered two bouts of throat cancer, and was replaced by new member Terry Weeks, his fill-in from his first health concern.
The Temptations' new lineup, consisting of Otis Williams, Ron Tyson, Theo Peoples, and newcomers Harry McGilberry and Terry Weeks, toured throughout 1997, and was featured in the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXII in early 1998, which celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Motown. Later that year, The Temptations released Phoenix Rising, vocally arranged by 80's producer Narada Michael Walden, Claytoven Richardson, Theo Peoples, Tony Lindsey and Skyler Jett, which became their first million-selling album in over twenty years. The album was anchored by "Stay", a single featuring Theo Peoples on lead, and featured a sample from "My Girl" which became a number-one hit on the adult contemporary charts. During the recording of Phoenix Rising, however, Theo Peoples departed, and was replaced by Barrington "Bo" Henderson. The completed album features lead vocals on different tracks by both Henderson and Peoples who later joined the Four Tops.
The year 1998 also saw the debut of The Temptations, a four-hour television miniseries based on Otis Williams' Temptations autobiography. It was broadcast in two parts on NBC on November 1 and November 2, 1998. The miniseries was a ratings success and won an Emmy award for Best Direction; it was subsequently rerun on the VH-1 cable television network and released to VHS and DVD.
Otis Williams' former wife, Josephine, Melvin Franklin's mother, Rose Franklin, and David Ruffin's family, filed a joint lawsuit against Williams, Motown, de Passe Entertainment, Hallmark Entertainment, and NBC for a number of charges, including "Defamation." The judges ruled in favor of the defendants, and the ruling was upheld when the plaintiffs appealed in 2001. Williams later claimed that, although his book was used as the source material for the film, he did not have a great deal of control over how the material was presented.
The Temptations were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2001, their 2000 album Ear-Resistible won the group its third Grammy, this one for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. Bo Henderson was fired from the group in 2003, prompting a wrongful termination lawsuit. His replacement was former Spinners lead G.C. Cameron. The lineup of Cameron, Otis Williams, Ron Tyson, Harry McGilberry, and Terry Weeks recorded for a short time before Harry McGilberry was dismissed; his replacement was former Spaniels bass Joe Herndon. McGilberry died on April 3, 2006, at age 56.
The group's final Motown album, Legacy, was released in 2004. Later that year, the Temptations asked to be released from their Motown contract, and moved to another Universal Motown Records Group label, New Door Records. Their sole album with this lineup, Reflections, was released on January 31, 2006, and contains covers of several popular Motown songs, including Diana Ross & the Supremes' "Reflections", the Miracles' "Ooo Baby Baby", Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing", and the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There". In 2005, The Temptations were inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. In 2007, The Temptations' recording of "My Girl" was voted a Legendary Michigan Song. The Temptations were nominated for the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, for their version of Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" from Reflections.
G. C. Cameron left the group in June 2007 to focus on his solo career. He was replaced by new member Bruce Williamson. The new lineup recorded another album of soul covers, Back to Front, released in October 2007.
Several former Temptations continue to perform outside of the group in spin-off or offshoot acts.
The most well known splinter was "Ruffin, Kendrick & Edwards: Former Leads of the Temptations", which featured the three former Temptations and three other members, David Sea, who'd been a consideration to replace Edwards in 1984, Nate Evans, a former member of The Impressions, and a female vocalist.
Following the death of David Ruffin, Dennis Edwards and Eddie Kendrick began touring as "The Temptations", still with David Sea and Nate Evans, and bringing in another former Temptation, Damon Harris. The group had different sixth vocalists at different times, including Charles Blackmon, from The Choice Four, and Curtis Taylor. but their use of the Temptations name prompted a legal battle with Otis Williams. The legal battle was resolved in favor of Otis Williams who is still touring as the last original Temptation.
Following the death of Eddie Kendricks, the group splintered. Dennis formed "Dennis Edwards and the Temptations Revue", Damon formed "Damon Harris and the Temptations Revue" featuring future Temptation Joe Herndon, Evans and Taylor formed a Temptations tribute band and David Sea went on to a solo career.
Edwards' group whose lineup in 1993 featured Edwards, Mike Patillo (bass), Bernard Gibson (tenor), a fourth male member, and a female member has appeared on several PBS music specials. The female member was replaced by the returning David Sea in 1999, and the remaining male member by falsetto Chris Arnold in the early 2000s.
Bernard Gibson was fired in 2006, and replaced by another former Temptation, Ali-Ollie Woodson, who previously fronted an act called Ali-Ollie Woodson & the Emperors of Soul, the name being drawn from the Temptations boxed set released in 1994. Woodson left the group briefly in 2008, joining a Broadway review of The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, and was replaced by Paul Williams, Jr., son of the late Paul Williams, Sr. from the original lineup. Woodson briefly rejoined, but left again due to cancer with Paul Williams Jr. again taking his place.
Harris later split from his "Temptations Revue", with the other four members joining another former Temptation falsetto, Glenn Leonard, to become "Glenn Leonard and the Temptations Experience." Joe Herndon left this group to join the Temptations Voice Booking Agency and his spot was filled by former Temptations bass singer Ray Davis. Following Davis' death on July 5, 2005, the spot was filled by another former Temptations bass singer Harry McGilberry, who died of an apparent drug overdose at the age of 56 on April 3, 2006. Damon Harris would form a new group later, billed as "Damon Harris and the Temptations Tribute."
Richard Street also leads a group, billed as "Richard Street" or "Richard Street's Temptations". Street is in the process of writing a book regarding his time with The Temptations entitled Ball of Confusion. If it is published, it will be the second autobiography regarding the group. In 1992, "Ruffin & Kendricks" roadie, Tony Turner, also wrote a book, assisted by Barbara Aria, contrasting Otis Williams' account of the group's glory days, entitled Deliver Us From Temptation.
Leonard, Woodson, and Henderson have toured as "Legendary Lead Singers of the Temptations" and "The Temptations Reunion Show" since 2004. This prompted a lawsuit by Otis Williams filed in October 2007, citing not just the three performers but their managers and every venue that hosted them. Williams' complaint deals with their use of the name, "The Temptations", as well as claims that the act accepted considerably lower fees than The Temptations, hurting the group's reputation as well as the ability to work. Also cited is advertising by the venues claimed to be misleading by billing Leonard, Woodson and Henderson's group as "The Temptations".
Unlike many other R&B groups, each member of the Temptations was a lead singer of some capacity, and The Temptations' songs depended upon the individual members' interaction as a group. Although the group always had an appointed main lead singer who dominated most the lead vocals (from Paul Williams to David Ruffin, Dennis Edwards, and later singers such as Louis Price, Ali-Ollie Woodson, and Terry Weeks), that singer was never given more of a promotional push than the other members. Co-lead songs, with two or more of the singers sharing the lead vocals, are common in the Temptations catalog, particularly among the psychedelic-era recordings of the late 1960s/early 1970s.
Following their first Motown hit, the group would alter their style several times over the ensuing years, adapting to the popular styles of the day while retaining their signature visual and vocal styles. The earliest Temptations recordings backed by Motown's stalwart studio band, the Funk Brothers, reflect the influence of producers Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, and featured a cohesive blend of black rhythm and blues along with elements of white pop music that later came to be known as the "Motown Sound". Recordings made prior to 1966 such as "My Girl", were built around songs with simple, direct lyrics supported by an R&B rhythm section with orchestral strings and horns added for pop appeal. During this period, each recording usually featured only one lead singer, usually David Ruffin or Eddie Kendricks, although Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Otis Williams each had solo numbers of their own at various times during this period.
Melisma and other complicated vocalization techniques featured in the arrangements of most other Motown groups of the period were essentially eschewed by the Temptations for a more direct, yet obviously gospel-rooted vocal approach, in order to make the songs more palatable for white audiences. Creative control remained primarily in the hands of Smokey Robinson, although individual members of the Temptations periodically co-wrote some of their own songs, most frequently by Eddie Kendricks, who also handled the vocal arrangements for all of the Temptations' material.
In 1966, Norman Whitfield changed the group's dynamic, moving them away from the previous one lead singer model and adding elements derived from the rougher soul of artists such as James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and the performers at Stax Records. Whitfield and his lyricists crafted Temptations songs with shifts of dynamics, syncopated horn stabs, and more intricate harmony arrangements which spotlighted each singer's unique vocal range. Onstage, this change was reflected in the group's use of a custom-made four-headed microphone stand, (invented by David Ruffin), which allowed each member freedom to perform without having to all crowd around one or two microphones. Under Whitfield's control, the Temptations retained their white pop appeal, but also gained popularity amongst black audiences as well.
When David Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards, and Sly and the Family Stone became popular, Whitfield again restructured the Temptations' sound, this time driving the group almost completely into a "psychedelic soul" type sound. However, ballads in the traditional style of the group were still being recorded as B-sides and album fillers, with the lone exception being "Just My Imagination".
Most other recordings from this period in 1968-1970 such as "Cloud Nine" and "Psychedelic Shack" featured echoed vocal tracks, distorted guitar lines with prominent use of the wah-wah pedal, hard-hitting drums, and various stereo and other sound effects. The majority of these songs feature at least two lead singers and often, all five Temptations sang lead, trading bars à la the Family Stone. Dennis Edwards, whose vocal style had a rougher, more Southern-soul based sound than that of David Ruffin, was often featured prominently on most of these recordings.
Inspired heavily by the concurrent works of Sly Stone, the lyrics for these songs centered primarily around then-current social issues such as integration, the Vietnam War, and self-consciousness. In addition, in an attempt to get the social message contained therein across to their audiences more clearly, many of the psychedelic soul recordings of this period were presented in mixes of extended length, often up to twice, triple or quadruple the length of the typical three-minute Motown song.
Tracks such as the album version of "Run Away Child, Running Wild" from Cloud Nine, "Take a Stroll Thru Your Mind" from Psychedelic Shack, and "Smiling Faces Sometimes" from Sky's the Limit, all run at least eight minutes in length. At the insistence of Norman Whitfield, a large portion of the additional running time for each song consisted of instrumental passages without vocals. For example, the hit version of their smash 1972 single "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" was nearly seven minutes long, featuring an instrumental intro that was almost two minutes long, a rarity for songs of that era.
"Psychedelic soul" soon gave way to "cinematic soul", highlighting a further series of lengthy recordings featuring detailed orchestration, extended instrumental introductions and bridging passages. Often focusing on lyrics about the ghettos and inner cities of black America, these songs were heavily influenced by the work of singer-songwriters Isaac Hayes and Curtis Mayfield. Unlike Hayes and Mayfield however, the Temptations had no creative control over their recordings, and were in no way fond of the twelve- and thirteen-minute long songs being forced upon them by Norman Whitfield, whose contributions were the focal point of Temptations albums such as Solid Rock, All Directions, and particularly Masterpiece.
In 1974, after Whitfield was dismissed as the producer for the Temptations, the group altered its sound to accommodate a balance of both up-tempo dance material as well as ballads. The vocal arrangements began to again focus primarily on one lead singer per track, although some leads were still being shared periodically. In addition, the Temptations themselves, after fighting Motown and Berry Gordy for creative control, began to write and produce some of their own material. From this point on, the Temptations focused almost exclusively on songs about romance. However, songs about social issues similar to the recordings made during the tenure of Norman Whitfield were periodically produced as well.
Temptations recordings of the mid `70's focused significantly on the influences of funk music from artists such as Parliament-Funkadelic and Sly and the Family Stone, and members of both acts contributed significantly to material recorded by the group during this period. In addition, their signature ballad sound, reduced to filler material during much of the Whitfield period, was restored to the lush, full productions of the earlier hits produced by Smokey Robinson. After a brief diversion into disco in the late-1970s, the Temptations settled into a form of an adult contemporary-rooted type of R&B, a style in which they continue to record.
Although the group continues to feature dancing as an important aspect of its act, as the ages of its members have increased, live shows have focused on less intricate choreography.
With their tailored suits and detailed choreography, The Temptations set the bar high for male soul and R&B groups of the period. Before the Temptations became popular, most black vocal groups were rough, high-energy acts featuring vocals which were more raw and dance movements which were more improvisational. Only a few performers, including contemporaries Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and the Four Tops, showed the refined style that would be popularized by the Temptations.
Producer Berry Gordy insisted that all his acts be equally appealing to both white as well as black audiences, and employed an extensive creative team to help tailor Motown talent for the crossover success he desired. Motown choreographer Cholly Atkins along with Paul Williams created the trademark precise and energetic, yet refined, dance steps used by the Temptations onstage. The most famous of these, the "Temptation Walk", or "Temptation Strut", was adapted from similar moves by the Flamingos and the Vibrations and from those two sources, Cholly Atkins and Paul Williams crafted the resulting signature dance routine.
Like other similar independent companies of the period, Motown was neither a member of ASCAP nor BMI, preferring to stay independent and handling their own widely varied distribution through thousands of "Mom & Pop" record stores and small radio stations. Many singles that might have been charted higher did not have the data for the Billboard charts to evaluate, so it is quite possible that the Temptations probably sold more than a "Gold Record" number of most of their early records. Their stage work and depth of their lead singers made them legends throughout the northern cities as well as the southern "chitlin' circuit", before being acknowledged by most radio disc jockeys as the strongest group around.
During the 1960s and 1970s, a number of soul groups showed significant influence from the Temptations, among them the Delfonics, the Chi-Lites, Parliaments, featuring George Clinton, the Dramatics, and Motown labelmates the Jackson 5 and The Undisputed Truth. These acts, and others, showed the influence of the Temptations in both their vocal performances and their onstage choreography. Several more recent soul and R&B vocal groups, including the New Edition led by Johnny Gill, Jodeci, BLACKstreet, Dru Hill, and, most notably, Boyz II Men in the 90's also showed significant influence from the Temptations.
It is interesting to note that during the early part of their career, their main competition came from Impressions featuring Curtis Mayfield; then during the phase of the group featuring alternating leads, competition came from the Chi-Lites. In their next phase, competition came from the O'Jays. In each case, each group alternated between love songs and songs with messages in their lyrics.
Temptations songs have been covered by scores of musicians, from R&B singers such as Luther Vandross ("Since I Lost My Baby"), to pop vocalists such as Bette Midler ("Just My Imagination"), to rock bands such as Rare Earth ("Get Ready"), Anthrax, Love and Rockets, Duran Duran ("Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today") and the Rolling Stones ("My Girl", "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", "Just My Imagination") and Mick Jagger's collaboration with reggae artist Peter Tosh on ("Don't Look Back"). In 1991, British singer Rod Stewart collaborated with the Temptations on the single "The Motown Song".
aka The Cavaliers
aka Otis Williams & the Distants, Otis Williams & the Siberians and The El Domingoes
aka The Elgins
|Year||Song title||US Top 10||UK Top 10||R&B No. 1|
|1966:||"Ain't Too Proud to Beg"||13||-||1|
|1966:||"Beauty Is Only Skin Deep"||3||-||1|
|1966:||"(I Know) I'm Losing You"||8||-||1|
|1967:||"All I Need"||8||26||2|
|1967:||"You're My Everything"||6||-||3|
|1967:||"I Wish It Would Rain"||4||-||1|
|1968:||"I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)"||13||-||1|
|1968:||"I'm Gonna Make You Love Me"
(Diana Ross & the Supremes and the Temptations)
|1969:||"Run Away Child, Running Wild"||6||-||1|
|1969:||"I Can't Get Next to You"||1||-||1|
|1970:||"Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)"||3||7||2|
|1971:||"Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)"||1||8||1|
|1972:||"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"||1||-||5|
|1973:||"Let Your Hair Down"||-||-||1|
|1991:||"The Motown Song"
(Rod Stewart featuring The Temptations)
|1992:||"My Girl" (reissue)||-||2||-|
The following albums reached the Top Ten on either the United States pop albums chart or the United Kingdom pop albums chart or the Billboard R&B charts.