The 2018 album All The Time marked the return of one of the most legendary soul groups of them all, the Temptations. The Tony-nominated musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations added further impetus to their awesome catalog, and May 2021 brought the start of a year of celebrations of their 60th anniversary.
All The Time featured the group’s inimitable versions of major songs of recent years by the likes of Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, and The Weeknd, as well as three new original tracks. Co-founder Otis Williams continues to preside over the current line-up, as the group’s unique and timeless sound delights concert-goers worldwide. Read our interview with Otis here.
Even a list of nothing but the Temptations’ R&B No. 1s in the US would run to 15 songs. No wonder their superb songbook earned them the title of the Emperors of Soul.
But we had to begin with the first of those soul chart-toppers, from 1964. “The Way You Do The Things You Do” — written and produced like most of their early hits by Smokey Robinson — also reached No.11 on the pop chart, as audiences fell for the peerless vocal interplay of the Tempts’ sound.
That initial style was based around the joint lead vocals of David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, profoundly augmented by the skills of Paul Williams, Otis Williams (no relation) and Melvin Franklin. Early in 1965 came they delivered the song that, for many, remains their greatest achievement, the Smokey classic “My Girl.” It was their first pop No.1, has a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame and, now, in the National Recording Registry.
From that same year, “Since I Lost My Baby” also found the group on top form before “Get Ready,” again from Robinson’s pen, took them back to the soul summit. Indeed, it was part of an extraordinary sequence in which they topped that list four times in about six months during 1966. “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” and ”(I Know) I’m Losing You” were also part of that run.
By 1968, the group’s sound was becoming earthier and more streetwise, responding as ever to the changing times and now aided by the production genius of Norman Whitfield. His songs with Barrett Strong, himself an early Motown recording hero, kept the Tempts high in the charts even through their changes in line-up.
After starring on the brilliantly desolate “I Wish It Would Rain,” Ruffin left, replaced by Dennis Edwards. But the hits kept coming in a breathtaking flourish to close out the decade, with the likes of “Cloud Nine” and “I Can’t Get Next To You” and start the new one (“Psychedelic Shack,” “Ball Of Confusion”).
1971 brought another outstanding team performance on the dream-like “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” as well as the funky “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” and the atmospheric, underrated and socially aware “Take A Look Around.” The following year, their vivid depiction of a broken home on “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” also perhaps one of the most stunning arrangements in Motown history, became their final pop No.1 and another Grammy Hall of Fame entry.
There were still four more R&B bestsellers to come, of which we’ve chosen the last, 1975’s “Shakey Ground,” which showed the group negotiating the new discotheque sound with considerable success. After a spell away from Motown at Atlantic, the Tempts returned and added more than a few important new entries to their canon.
Rick James, one of the label’s hottest stars of the era, inspired another excellent update of their sound on the exciting 1982 collaboration “Standing On The Top,” and in 1984 there was the national and international hit “Treat Her Like A Lady.” As we bring the story up to date with their soulful reimagining of “Stay With Me” and the new song “Waitin’ On You” it’s time again to yield to the Temptations.
Hear The Temptations in a whole new light with the original Broadway cast recording from the Tony-nominated musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, which can be bought here.