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Originally formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1961 as the Elgins; name changed to the Temptations, 1961; original group consisted of Otis Williams (born October 30, 1949, in Texarkana, Texas), Melvin Franklin (born October 12, 1942, in Montgomery, Alabama), Paul Williams (born July 1, 1939, in Birmingham, Alabama; died August 17, 1973, in Detroit, Michigan, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound), Edward James Kendricks (born December 17, 1939, in Birmingham, Alabama), and Elbridge Bryant. Paul Williams was replaced in 1971 by Richard Street (born October 5, 1942, in Detroit, Michigan). Eddie Kendricks was replaced in 1971 by Ricky Owens; Owens was replaced in 1971 by Damon Otis Harris (born July 3, 1950, in Baltimore, Maryland); Harris was replaced in 1974 by Glenn Leonard; Leonard was replaced in 1982 by Ron Tyson. Elbridge Bryant was replaced in 1964 by David Ruffin (born January 18, 1941, in Wyanot, Mississippi); Ruffin was replaced in 1968 by Dennis Edwards (born February 3, 1943, in Birmingham, Alabama); Edwards's spot was filled from 1976-79 by Louis Price and from 1982-86 by Ollie Woodson. Addresses: Office-- c/o Motown Record Corporation, Hollywood, Calif. 90028.
The Temptations, one of the few groups to survive from the days when the sound of the Motown record company ruled the airwaves, have maintained their popularity through more than two decades of changing styles in popular music. Commenting on the group in the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, Joe McEwen and Jim Miller wrote: "While the Four Tops covered the frenetic side of the Motown sound and the Miracles monopolized its romantic side, the Temptations quite simply stood as the finest vocal group in Sixties soul: they could outdress, outdance, and outsing any competition in sight." Today, the "Tempts" continue to project this dynamic yet elegant image in both their recordings and their live performances.
The group came together in Detroit in 1961, when Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, of the Primes, joined forces with Otis Williams, Al Bryant, and Melvin Franklin of the Distants. Both the Primes and the Distants were popular in Detroit, but neither had had a national hit. The five men originally christened the new group the Elgins, after a high-quality watch. Upon learning that the name was already taken, they settled for calling themselves the Temptations. "You can see today that it was the perfect name," commented Otis Williams in his book Temptations. "It was about style and elegance but also suggested romance and, frankly, sex." Williams added that from their earliest days, the group consciously cultivated a sophisticated image: "In our songs and in our moves, we were subtler and more romantic than some other guys, who were always grunting and sweating and carrying on."
After a few months of rehearsing, the Temptations auditioned for Detroit record producer Berry Gordy. Impressed by their intricate harmonizing, Gordy immediately offered them a contract with his fledgling record company, Motown. In their early days, the group played numerous gigs at Detroit clubs (where they had an enthusiastic following), sang backup for many of Motown's established stars, and toured the country with the Motortown Revue in the company of the Supremes, Dionne Warwick, and others. Despite their obvious talent, however, the Temptations released seven singles without a hit. Gordy briefly renamed the act "the Pirates" in 1962, hoping to change their luck. The group's members were relieved when the Pirates' "Mind Over Matter" and "I 'Il Love You Till I Die" flopped. Williams explained in Temptations, "We'd have died for a hit, but if it meant going through life in pirate uniforms, no thanks!" By 1964, personality conflicts forced Al Bryant to leave the group; he was replaced by David Ruffin, a Detroit singer who had enjoyed some solo success. Ruffin had an athletic stage presence; his spins, cartwheels, and splits added an exciting new dimension to the Tempts' act. Further improvements came through the group's association with Cholly Atkins. This long-time professional dancer, who had served as choreographer for Gladys Knight and the Pips, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Cadillacs, and other successful groups, developed many of the Temptations' trademark smooth moves.
National success finally came in 1964 with "The Way You Do the Things You Do," a tune written and produced by Smokey Robinson, which peaked at number eleven on the pop charts. Capitalizing on the song's popularity, Motown released Meet the Temptations, an album containing "The Way You Do the Things You Do," and its B side, "Just Let Me Know," along with all of the group's previously unsuccessful singles. In 1965 another Smokey Robinson song, "My Girl," became their first number-one hit. Like most of the Tempts' early music, it was a ballad that Robinson had produced as well as written. In 1966 the group worked with producer Norman Whitfield for the first time, cutting one of their most popular songs, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." It was the beginning of a long and successful collaboration. "Norman Whitfield could and did produce soft, smooth ballads with the best of them but, stylistically speaking, he was headed into another realm," wrote Otis Williams. "His backing tracks crackled with more intricate percussion, wailing, almost rock-style guitars, and arrangements that featured us as five distinct singers instead of one lead singer fronting a homogenized doo-wop chorus....[He] took us in new directions without losing the heart of our sound."
For several years, the Temptations were one of the most popular acts in America. They played the hottest nightclubs, appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and numerous other television programs, and did a series of recordings and television appearances with the Supremes that broadened both groups' appeal. Their stage routine became even more refined after a special four-headed microphone was designed for them. It allowed them to keep their distance so that even when executing complicated moves, they were in no danger of stepping on each other. Their great success brought its own set of problems, however. Some members proved unable to handle the wealth and popularity that had come their way. Ego clashes within the group became common. There were many personnel changes during the late sixties and early seventies: David Ruffin left to pursue a solo career in 1968 and was replaced by Dennis Edwards. Edwards's career with the group was fitful; he was asked to leave in 1974 and replaced by Louis Price; he returned briefly in 1979 but was soon turned out in favor of Ollie Woodson; and he came back to the group a third time in 1986. In 1970, Eddie Kendricks decided to follow Ruffin's lead and go solo; he was replaced by Ricky Owens of the Vibrations, but Owens was almost immediately dismissed in favor of Damon Harris, who stayed with the group until 1974. Harris was then replaced by Glenn Leonard, whose spot was taken by Ron Tyson in 1982. Paul Williams, considered by some as the soul of the Temptations, was asked to leave the group in 1971 because of his worsening alcoholism and related health problems; his spot was filled by Richard Street. Two years later, Williams committed suicide in Detroit.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Temptations and producer Whitfield pioneered the "psychedelic soul" movement, which was characterized by an electric funk sound and socially conscious lyrics. The trend yielded several big hits for the Tempts, including "Cloud Nine," "Ball of Confusion," and "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." Whitfield stuck with it long after it had been imitated enough to become a cliche, however, and the once-creative relationship between the Temptations and their producer stagnated. Otis Williams reported in Temptations that Whitfield began minimizing the singers' contributions to their own albums: "On some tracks our singing seemed to function as ornamentation for Norman's instrumental excursions. When we started reading articles where writers referred to us as 'the Norman Whitfield Choral Singers,' we really got mad." The Temptations' fans were disappointed as well. Record sales fell dramatically. The Temptations sought more artistic control over their recordings, but Berry Gordy was deaf to their requests. Frustrated, the group severed its association with Motown in 1976.
A two-year contract with Atlantic failed to help them out of their slump, however. It was the age of disco, when many Motown acts faded away. The Temptations weathered their share of personnel changes and inactive periods, but remained intact. In 1979 they renegotiated with Motown and returned to their old company. Shortly thereafter, the classic Motown sound came back into vogue and the Temptations were once again in demand. They reunited briefly with Ruffin and Kendricks for a tour, but personality conflicts soon resurfaced, and they quickly returned to a five-man lineup. After their appearance on the Motown 25 television special, they teamed with the Four Tops for a "T'n'T Tour" that played to enthusiastic audiences around the world for nearly three years.
by Joan Goldsworthy
Temptations, The's Career
Temptations, The's Awards
Grammy Award for best rhythm and blues performance by a group, 1969, for "Cloud Nine," and 1972, for "Papa Was a Rolling Stone"; Grammy Awards for best rhythm and blues song and best rhythm and blues instrumental performance, 1972, for "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" American Music Award for best vocal group, 1974.
- Singles; for Gordy Records, except as noted
- "The Way You Do the Things You Do," 1964.
- "My Girl," 1964.
- "Since I Lost My Baby," 1965.
- "Get Ready," 1966.
- "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," 1966.
- "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep," 1966.
- "(I Know) I'm Losing You," 1966.
- "I Wish It Would Rain," 1967.
- "Cloud Nine," 1968.
- (With the Supremes) "I'll Try Something New," Motown, 1969.
- "I Can't Get Next to You," 1969.
- "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)," 1970.
- "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)," 1971.
- "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone," 1972.
- "Keep Holding On," 1975.
- "I Just Don't Know How to Let You Go," Atlantic, 1979.
- "Sail Away," 1984.
- "Treat Her Like a Lady," 1984.
- "How Can You say That It's Over," 1985.
- "I Wonder Who She's Seeing Now," Motown, 1987.
- LPs; for Gordy Records, except as noted
- Meet the Temptations 1964.
- The Temptations Sing Smokey 1965.
- Temptin' Temptations 1965.
- The Temptations Greatest Hits 1966.
- Temptations Live! 1967. Cloud Nine 1969.
- Temptations Greatest Hits, Volume II 1970.
- All the Million-Sellers 1981.
- The Temptations 25th Anniversary Motown, 1986.
- To Be Continued 1986.
- Together Again Motown, 1987.
- LPs; with Diana Ross and the Supremes; all for Motown
- Diana Ross and the Supremes Join the Temptations 1968.
- TCB 1968.
- Together 1969.
- On Broadway 1969.
- Dalton, David and Lenny Kaye, Rock l00, Grosset & Dunlap, 1977.
- Hardy, Phil and Dave Laing, Encyclopedia of Rock, McDonald, 1987.
- Miller, Jim, editor, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1976.
- Williams, Otis, and Patricia Romanowski, Temptations, Putman, 1988.
- Billboard, May 3, 1986.
- Newsweek, January 27, 1986.
- People, August 25, 1986; September 1, 1986.
Temptations, The Lyrics
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