The Temptations: 50th Anniversary Singles Collection

Release Date: September 13, 2011

When I was in high school, I caught the first broadcast of the television miniseries The Temptations. I recorded it on VHS and watched it countless times until I got my hands on the DVD which I’ve watched even more. Growing up listening to the local oldies station, I was familiar with songs like “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “My Girl”. Watching the tragic story of this magnificent group play out on screen, however, really formed a deep bond for me and cemented me as a fan of their music.

Now, I’m not expecting anyone to go out and buy this 3 CD (81 track) opus, but it does warrant our discussion. For most classic artists, you’re relegated to either picking up an album with a couple of winners and another 8-9 flops – or, you pick up a greatest hits and really lose the context of those songs in their original form. I love this collection because it is all of their singles for a decade, some winners and some losers. Back in the 50s and 60s, music was more about the single than the album so you would be hard pressed to go out and find a record by anyone from that era that was pure gold. With the Temps, the only album that I could look toward was In a Mellow Mood which is really not indicative of their typical sound. This collection, however, showcases those greatest hits along with the numerous misses along the way.

The group was formed in Detroit in 1960 when Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams (The Primes) joined forces with Otis Williams, Al Bryant and Melvin Franklin (The Distants). They were able to land a deal with Berry Gordy’s Motown Records and pushed out a string of flops until they replaced Bryant with one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century, David Ruffin. And the rest is history. See, if you bought that greatest hits record, it would launch with “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, the group’s first Top 20 hit. But that means you would miss three incredible tracks: “Mother of Mine”, “Paradise”, and one of Paul Williams’ best vocals on “I Want a Love I Can See.”

Even after the success of “Things You Do,” the group faltered until Ruffin stepped into the spotlight on “My Girl” (their first Pop #1). From then on, the bulk of their most recognizable hits were helmed by Ruffin until his departure. These would include those “greatest” hits “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “I Wish it Would Rain” (my personal favorite from their entire catalog). But, again, you would miss some great tracks like “Get Ready”  featuring Eddie Kendricks.

David Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards who (some could say) garnered the group its greatest recognition in the form of a Grammy Award for “Cloud Nine”, which was one of the groups best opportunities to showcase every voice on one track. From their it was ups and downs with a few standouts such as “Can’t Get Next to You”, “Ball of Confusion”, and a laughable cover of The Band’s “The Weight.” With much turmoil hanging over the band, Kendricks and Williams recorded their most incredible duet “Just My Imagination” which would be their last single as part of the group and Williams final hit before his self-inflicted death at age 34.

“Just My Imagination” is the last big hit included on this collection, but in many ways it would be the groups last big hit, period. The one final single of note (not included on this set) would be “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” – notable for the featured work of Richard Street and Damon Harris who both passed just last month.

The group would re-unite, break up, induct new members, re-welcome old members and even work with the magical mustache of Hall and Oates throughout the 70s-80s-90s. Aside from Distants founding member Otis Williams, all other founding members have passed and most from tragic circumstances. While the shell of a group that exists today may carry on the legacy in name, none will ever measure up to the “classic five” of Williams, Ruffin, Kendricks, Williams, and Franklin.

I just had to include this because Paul owns this record.

The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds

Released Date: May 16, 1966

One of the hallmarks of this site is the mission to bring you classic records that – for whatever reason – you may be unfamiliar with. What better way to start than with an album that was heavily influenced by the Beatles and has inspired countless artists over the decades including Mick Jagger, Elton John, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney who was quoted as saying that he weeps every time he hears it? It is #2 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. This is Pet Sounds.

My journey to the album began with a compilation record called Artist’s Choice: Rolling Stones. There was a series of these records that Starbucks put out for several years that directed me to a number of other great artists. The Stones chose the very deep track “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” and reference the influence that the entire Pet Sounds record had on the band. Such high praise alongside my familiarity with several of the tracks (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Sloop John B”, “God Only Knows”) made the purchase a no-brainer.

Chief songwriter, Brian Wilson, had been profoundly impacted by The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, noting that it was an album with a unified theme and thought, rather than just a collection of songs. (This is an age-old battle that continues today and will be addressed in more depth as more records are reviewed). Wilson then set about to write the greatest rock album ever.

“For me to say that I was enthralled would be an understatement. I had never heard such magical sounds, so amazingly recorded. It undoubtedly changed the way that I, and countless others, approached recording. It is a timeless and amazing recording of incredible genius and beauty.” – Elton John

What he ended up with flew in the face of everything that the band had spent 5 years building their reputation on – those classics like “Surfing U.S.A.”, “Surfin’ Safari”, “I Get Around”, and “Help Me Rhonda”. Compared to those surf tunes, Pet Sounds was the 60′s version of “emo,” a collection of songs about teenage life and the search for meaning. Wilson wrote and recorded most of the record himself with studio musicians while The Beach Boys toured without him. When they returned from tour, he merely brought them in to contribute ad-hoc vocals. For the most part, the rest of the group didn’t “get it.” Lead singer Mike Love was perhaps the most vocal in his stance against the album and the album almost went unreleased – it’s intended follow-up SMiLE did go unreleased and was locked in a vault for some 44 years before being released in 2011.

Ok, so all of that was really just history. Can I tell you what makes it so good? No. Wilson is to music what a master painter is to the visual arts. He is someone who works without a box and without a safety net. He knows that if he hears it in his head, he can make it happen and he didn’t let anything stand in the way of that. In truth, even with the recording equipment and technology available to us today, a lot of what Wilson was doing over 40 years ago would still be difficult and his type of creativity is not something that can be born out of “hit machine” in a studio. However, unlike many of music’s strange musical mad scientists (Prince, I’m looking at you), Wilson crafted songs that had a universality about them that has resonated with people for nearly half a decade.

“I think I would put him up there with any composer – especially Pet Sounds. I don’t think there is anything better than that, necessarily. I don’t think you’d be out of line comparing him to Beethoven – to any composer.” – Tom Petty

Listen to: “Caroline, No”, “God Only Knows”, “I Know There’s an Answer”, “Sloop John B”