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The Temptations

Updated on May 31, 2013

Smokin' Boy Band

It was Motown's founder and legendary record producer Berrry Gordy, who in 1961 renamed what was formerly the Elgins, the Temptations. They became one of the most successful male bands of the 60's and 70's.

Often described as the 'quintessential Motown group' the band's success was largely due to a combination of rich, harmonious vocals and smooth, syncopated dance moves. Billed as the emporers of soul they enjoyed mega hits such as My Girl (Smokey Robinson) Get Ready (the last song Robinson ever wrote) and Aint too Proud to Beg (Norman Whitfield)

They weren't however, just an overnight hit and their success followed a period of struggle, line-up shifts and tenacious hard work.

Great Songs

The initial line-up of the band was from a meld of two Detroit-based groups - the Primes , a trio originally from Alabama and the Distants ...a quintet. When the Distants lost two of their members, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams from the Primes were invited to join.

After successfully auditioning for Berry Gordy they were signed to Motown but had only a string of non-charting singles in the beginning. In 1963 vocalist David Ruffin joined the group, replacing Elbridge Bryant and his tenor voice complimented the line-up. Otis Williams was a middle tenor, Paul Williams a baritone, Melvin franklin had a deep bass voice and Eddie Kendricks had a high tenor. They now had the perfect mix.

Gordy wanted the group(as he did all his acts) to appeal to both white and black audiences and made use of an extensive creative team to tailor every aspect of performance and image. As a result the Temptations were smooth and sophisticated rather than raw and energetic.

1964 saw in the Temptations first Billboard top-twenty hit with Smokey Robinson's The Way You do the Things You do and by the middle of the decade the goup was leading the charts with some really grooving songs backed by a first-rate studio band, affectionately known as the Funk Band.

My Girl

In 1968 David Ruffin left to forge a solo career and was replaced by Dennis Edwards from the Contours. According to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame this was followed by a psychadelic period which coalesced with the emergant hippy movement of the late sixties, a switch that ushered in yet more success. Recordings from this period include Cloud Nine and Psychedelic Shack.

As the 1970's wore on the group developed more of a funk style with dips into disco and eventtually settled inot what has been described as as 'adult contempory R&B'.

The Moves

A large part of the appeal of the group was their on-stage presence and the smooth grooves and moves of their honey-smooth dancing style. In the early days in particular, the group featured complicated and intricate steps that complimented the harmonious vocals and made them mesmerising to watch.

Attention to detail was paramount and each song had its own distinct dance moves, choreograhed especially. many of the Temptions moves were choreographed by legendary Motown mover and shaker, Cholly Atkins.

Aint Too Proud to Beg

Get Ready

Still Grooving

The Temptations are still a presence in the music scene, despite an inordinately high occurance of very tragic losses over time. In 1973 Paul Williams, allegedly plagued by health and emotional problems, comiitted suicide through a gunshot wound to the head. He was only 34. Williams had already left the band in 1971 but will always be remembered as an integral part of the 'classic five' line-up.

1991 David Ruffin, reputedly a long-term drug abuser, died. In 1992 Eddie Kendricks died lung cancer and in 1995, Melvin Franklin, after a brain seizure. Seems an awful lot for one group to bear but the according to it's members the Temptations are more than a vocal group made up of individuals...they're a a tradition.

Classic Five Line-Up

Image from wikipedia...Otis Williams (bottom left), Eddie Kendricks (top left), Melvin Franklin (top right), David Ruffin (bottom right), and Paul Williams (center) circa 1965.
Image from wikipedia...Otis Williams (bottom left), Eddie Kendricks (top left), Melvin Franklin (top right), David Ruffin (bottom right), and Paul Williams (center) circa 1965.


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    • Ryem profile image

      Ryem 3 years ago from Maryland

      I love The Temptations. David Ruffin's voice is one of my favorite voices in R&B, period. Great hub!

    • Ella Quirk profile image

      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      Thanks Neil

    • Neil Sperling profile image

      Neil Sperling 6 years ago from Port Dover Ontario Canada

      Great trip down early childhood memories - thanks