In September of 1966, the wicked Wilson Pickett may have been shaking up the soul scene with his ‘Land Of 1,000 Dances,’ but the mighty Motown was still everywhere, and so were the temptin’ Temptations.
What a year the group were having: top of the R&B charts in April with ‘Get Ready,’ then in June with ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,’ then again on 24 September 1966, with ‘Beauty Is Only Skin Deep.’ The Tempts’ Christmas gift was a fourth R&B No. 1 in a row, completing the best sequence of their career, with ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You.’
While ‘Get Ready’ was a Smokey Robinson composition and production, both ‘Beg’ and ‘Skin Deep’ were songs written by the emerging Norman Whitfield with Eddie Holland of the H-D-H triumvirate. Whitfield came through the Motown ranks as a songwriter first, with Marvin Gaye’s ‘Pride and Joy,’ before winning his production spurs on the Tempts’ ‘The Further You Look, The Less You See,’ as well as Kim Weston’s ‘Love Me All The Way.’
The huge success of ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’ — also a top 15 pop single and the Temptations’ biggest UK hit to date, at No. 21 — increased Whitfield’s stock as a producer and landed him the honour again. He was also in the chair for that next No. 1 triumph, ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You.’
‘Beauty Is Only Skin Deep’ was a song that already had Motown history. Norman had started work on it two years earlier, intending it for the Tempts before the Miracles recorded it. That version was unreleased when the Temptations’ interpretation came out in early August, 1966, but, just after theirs hit the top (and gave them their first UK top 20 hit, at No. 18), the Miracles’ recording made it out, on their Away We A Go-Go album in November.
Jimmy Ruffin, too, recorded ‘Skin Deep’ before his brother David’s lead vocal helped to make the Tempts’ version definitive; Jimmy’s cut took another 17 years to emerge, on the album Motown Superstars Sing Motown Superstars.
‘Beauty Is Only Skin Deep’ is on the album My Girl: The Very Best of the Temptations which can be bought here.