They became the Emperors of Soul, but the Temptations’ ascension to that throne was hard-earned. After an opening brace of singles in 1961 on Motown’s Miracle label (“Oh Mother Of Mine” and “Check Yourself”) generated no national chart action at all, the group did manage a Top 30 R&B chart placing with the third, and their first for the Gordy label, “(You’re My) Dream Come True.”
But the date that reshaped their future was January 23, 1964, which brought the release of the Smokey Robinson production that changed it all. “The Way You Do The Things You Do” had the moves, grooves, and lyrics to punch through to both the Black and pop audiences. Co-written by Smokey with fellow Miracle Bobby Rogers, and rocket-fuelled by the nimble falsetto of Eddie Kendricks, it would become the Tempts’ first R&B No.1 (on Cash Box, during the hiatus of the Billboard listing), and a very presentable No.11 pop crossover.
Robinson would recall in The Complete Motown Singles Vol.4 that his song went into a head-to-head with Motown boss Berry Gordy’s own composition “Just Let Me Know,” which the latter executive was convinced would be the song to up their ante. “We played [‘The Way You Do…’] for secretaries, for the postman, for people passing by on the street,” recalled the Miracles’ frontman. “We played it for anyone we could find. And I’m proud to report that Berry Gordy, genius that he is, didn’t get a single vote.” “Just Let Me Know” wound up as the B-side.
Trade press reviews were hard to win for a group that had performed very modestly on the charts to that point, but Cash Box sang the single’s praises in its February 8 edition, writing idiosyncratically: “The songsters pop up on Gordy with a very catchy, good-natured salute to the preferred one. Backing the boys is an original-sounding bounce-beat format. Should be eyed.” A shorter notice for “Just Let Me Know” added: “Good back-beat sound backs a more serious blues-styled expression.”
“The first time we heard the song, we loved it,” the Tempts’ Otis Williams told Mojo in 2009. “The melody swung, and the lyrics had lots of charm. They were silly in a way, talking about a girl you loved as a candle, a handle, a schoolbook, a cool crook, a broom, a perfume, but, typical Smokey, he made it work. It got a good response whenever we did it live, so our hopes were up. We knew from past experience that even the best tracks don’t always click.”
Buy or stream “The Way You Do The Things You Do” on My Girl: The Very Best of the Temptations.