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.