The Temptations are an American vocal group known for their success with Motown Records during the 1960s and 1970s. Known for their choreography, distinct harmonies, and flashy wardrobe, the group was highly influential to the evolution of R&B and soul music. Having sold tens of millions of albums, the Temptations are one of the most successful groups in music history. As of 2015, the Temptations continue to perform with one living original member, Otis Williams, still in the lineup.
Featuring five male vocalists and dancers (save for brief periods with fewer or more members), the group formed in 1960 in Detroit, Michigan under the name The Elgins. The original founding members were originally members of two rival Detroit vocal groups: Otis Williams, Elbridge”Al”Bryant, and Melvin Franklin of Otis Williams & the Distants, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Primes. In 1964, Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin, who was the lead vocalist on a number of the group’s biggest hits, including My Girl (1964), Ain’t Too proud To Beg (1966), and I Wish It Would Rain (1967). Ruffin was replaced in 1968 by Dennis Edwards, with whom the group continued to record hit records such as Cloud Nine (1969) and Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today) (1970). The group’s lineup has changed frequently since the departures of Kendricks and Paul Williams from the act in 1971. Later members of the group have included singers such as Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, and Ali-Ollie Woodson, with whom the group scored a late-period hit in 1984 with Treat Her Like A Lady.
Following their first Motown hit, the group would alter their style several times over the ensuing years, adapting to the popular styles of the day while retaining their signature visual and vocal styles. The earliest Temptations recordings backed by Motown’s stalwart studio band, the Funk Brothers, reflect the influence of producers Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, and featured a cohesive blend of black rhythm and blues along with elements of white pop music that later came to be known as the Motown Sound. Recordings made prior to 1966, such as My Girl, were built around songs with simple, direct lyrics supported by an R&B rhythm section with orchestral strings and horns added for pop appeal. During this period, each recording usually featured only one lead singer, usually David Ruffin or Eddie Kendricks, although Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Otis Williams each had solo numbers of their own at various times during this period.
The Temptations generally eschewed Melisma and other complicated vocalization techniques that many other Motown groups of the period featured. They favoured a more direct, yet obviously gospel-rooted vocal approach to make the songs more palatable for white audiences. Creative control remained primarily in the hands of Smokey Robinson. Although, individual members of the Temptations periodically co-wrote some of their own songs, most frequently by Eddie Kendricks, who also handled the vocal arrangements for all the Temptations’ material.
In 1966, Norman Whitfield changed the group’s dynamic, moving them away from the previous one lead singer model and adding elements derived from the rougher soul of artists such as James Brown, Wilson Pickett, and the performers at Stax Records. Whitfield and his lyricists crafted Temptations songs with shifts of dynamics, syncopated horn stabs, and more intricate harmony arrangements which spotlighted each singer’s unique vocal range. Onstage, this change was reflected in the group’s use of a custom-made four-headed microphone stand, invented by David Ruffin, which allowed each member freedom to perform without having to all crowd around one or two microphones. Under Whitfield’s control, the Temptations retained their white pop appeal, but also gained popularity amongst black audiences as well.
Over the course of their career, the Temptations have released four Billboard Hot 100 number-one singles and fourteen R&B Number-one singles, and their material has earned them three Grammy Awards. The Temptations were the first Motown recording act to win a Grammy Award – for Cloud Nine in 1969 – and in 2013 received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Six of the Temptations (Edwards, Franklin, Kendricks, Ruffin, Otis Williams and Paul Williams) were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Three classic Temptations songs, My Girl, Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me), and Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, are among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. The Temptations were also ranked at number 68 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of all time.
Songs to Include:
“Just My Imagination”
“Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”
“You Really Got a Hold On Me”
“The Way You Do The Things You Do”
“Baby, Baby I Need You”