Reputedly the most successful group in black music history, the Temptation's career spans forty years so. However many records they sold, however many hits they had, there is only one thing you need remember; these are the Emperors of Soul, quite simply the best darned soul group that ever there was.
The Temptations were formed from the remnants of two previous male vocal groups active in the Detroit area, namely the Primes and the Distants. When both groups disbanded Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams joined up with Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin & Elbridge Bryant to form the Elgins and auditioned for Motown Records. Finding that there already was a group named the Elgins, they renamed themselves the Temptations.
In 1961 they where offered a deal with Motown, two singles Oh Mother Of Mine and Check Yourself, were released on the Miracle label before they switched to Motowns new Gordy label. Further singles followed, produced mostly by Berry Gordy Jr but the nearest they got to a hit was Dream Come True (which reached no 22 in the R&B charts).
The Classic Five era
Clearly things were not going to plan. Production duties were therefore handed over to Smokey Robinson in 1963 who began work on their debut album. At the end of year Elbridge Bryant was fired after physically attacking Paul Williams with a beer bottle, after a Motortown Christmas Review Show. Tenor David Ruffin was recruited as a replacement and what has been termed the Classic Five line up was born.
Eddie Kendricks led single The Way You Do The Things You Do achieved the all important break through as it climbed to No 11.
Then in December 1964, the group recorded the Smokey Robinson composition My Girl, with David Ruffin on lead. Released in early 1965 it hit No 1. A distinctly pop confection, it remains the group's biggest hit to this day, and was the percusor of a string of Ruffin led hits throughout 1965 and 1966.
By 1966 the Temptations were still effectively Smokey's group, but Norman Whitfield was hovering on the wings and had managed to get the group into the studio to record Ain't To Proud To Beg, featuring David Ruffin on lead. Motown's Quality Control picked Smokey's Get Ready over Whitfield's cut, but it only went to no 29. Whitfield's harder edged Ain't To Proud To Beg, went to no 13. So Berry Gordy gave the Temptations to Whitfield.
By the time of recording Wish It Would Rain in 1968, David Ruffin was increasingly seeing himself as the star and was demanding both a greater say in group affairs and a name change to David Ruffin and the Temptations. All this, naturally, did not endear him to the other four, who eventually tiring of his attitude and casual attitude to attendance and fired him.
Dennis Edwards, (previously a member of another Motown act, the Contours was recruited as Ruffin's replacement and his arrival ushered in a whole new era for the group.
The Psychedelic Soul Era
With Ruffin now gone, Norman Whitfield took the opportunity to dramatically change the Temptation's style. Where David Ruffin rasped, Dennis Edwards bellowed, a vocal style that was much more in keeping with the new funk driven psychedlic soul sound that the Temptations now adopted. This was a change that mirrored the change in public mood as 60's ebullience gave way to 70's realism. Norman Whitfield teamed up with Barret Strong to compose more socially relevant beginning in 1969 with Cloud Nine and its obvious drug references and included such songs as Runaway Child, Runnin' Wild and Ball Of Confusion which documented the disintegrating fabric of American society.
Personnel changes were on the way; after the success of Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me) in 1971, Eddie Kendricks exited for a solo career and
Paul Williams left soon after (forced to leave due to poor health exacerbated by alcoholism). Tenors Damon Harris and Richard Street (himself an ex Distant) were brought in as replacements.
In 1972 Papa Was A Rolling Stone gave the group another No 1 hit and two further Grammy Awards. The 11-minute album version was a vertiable tour de force, a mini soul symphony that marked the high point of the Whitfield era. After this point everything else seemed to be an anti-climax.
In 1973 Whitfield's writing partnership with Barret Strong was broken, and inevitably the quality of material suffered.
The Temptations continued to have hits material such as Masterpiece and Happy People as they continued to rework the old formula.
In 1975 Norman Whitfield finally left Motown, and Damon Harris left, being replaced by Glenn Leonard. The Temptations continued recording but they were no longer at the forefront of soul music any longer, their success gradually dwindled away and with the departure of Dennis Edwards in 1977 the group decided to leave Motown and seek a new sound elsewhere.
The Atlantic Years
With Louis Price signed up as the replacement for Dennis Edwards, the Temptations moved to Atlantic Records and attempted to break through to the disco market with a couple of LP's, the second of which was produced by the Holland brothers. Neither was very succesfull.
Back to Motown
So in 1980 the group bowed to the almost inevitable and returned to Motown Records. Dennis Edwards also returned (resulting in Price's hasty exit), and the group scored some success with the Power album.
In 1982, both David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks returned for the Reunion album, which also included all five of the then current members; a tour followed and a minor hit single Standing On The Top emerged. After David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks went their separate ways once more, Dennis Edwards soon followed.
The Temptations continued to plug away throughout the 1980's and 1990's (right up to the present day). Founder member Otis Williams remained whilst others came and went, and although the group continued recording new material they became an oldies group, able to raise a cheer by playing My Girl just one more time.
However, albums such as For Lovers Only and Earresistible are far better than one might expect (the latter even winning a Grammy Award, showing that there is still life in the old dogs.
The Classic Five era
*From the Motown Lost & Found series
The Psychedelic Soul Era
with the Supremes
On Atlantic Records
Back at Motown
Past and present members of the group, in order of joining, are as follows
The current line up is in bold.