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date: 20 February 2020

Temptations, thefree

  • Rob Bowman

American soul and rhythm and blues vocal group. They came together in Detroit in 1961 when Eddie Kendricks (1939–92) and Paul Williams (1939–73), formerly of the Primes, joined forces with Melvin Franklin (1942–95), Otis Williams (b 1941) and Eldridge Bryant of the Distants. They were signed to Motown as the Elgins (their name was quickly changed to the Temptations by Berry Gordy); most of their recordings were released on the subsidiary label Gordy records. Between 1962 and 1994 the group had an astonishing 82 singles in the American rhythm and blues chart, 52 of which also entered the pop charts. In 1963 David Ruffin replaced Bryant, forming the Temptations' classic line-up. Ruffin possessed a gruff baritone that was juxtaposed by their producer, Smokey Robinson, with Eddie Kendricks's sweeping falsetto. The results were such classic records as The Way You Do the Things You Do (1964), My Girl (1965) and Get Ready (1966). In 1966 Norman Whitfield began writing and producing for the group and, in combination with lyricist Barrett Strong, he placed the Temptations in a harder-edged southern soul idiom, leading them to even greater success with such hits as Ain't Too Proud to Beg (1966), (I know) I'm losing you (1966) and I wish it would rain (1968). In early 1968 Ruffin was replaced by a former member of the Contours, Dennis Edwards. Heavily influenced by the funk pioneers Sly and the Family Stone, in late 1968 Whitfield once again recast the Temptations, this time in the psychedelic soul idiom with such masterpieces as Cloud Nine (1968), I can't get next to you (1969), Psychedelic Shack and Ball of Confusion (That's what the world is today), both released in 1970. After more personnel changes from 1973 onwards the group recorded a series of increasingly funky singles with Edwards taking most of the lead vocal parts. The best of these were Papa was a rolling stone (1972) and Shaky Ground (1975).

In 1975 the group lost its producer when Whitfield left Motown and from then on the Temptations had some success in the rhythm and blues charts but their creative prime had passed. Nonetheless they remain the most successful vocal group in black music history.


  • O. Williams with P. Romanowski: Temptations (New York, 1988)
  • T. Turner with B. Aria: Deliver Us from Temptation (New York, 1992)
  • N. George: ‘Cool as They Wanna be’, Emperors of Soul, Motown 0338 (1994) [disc notes]
  • H. Weinger: ‘Sunshine on a Cloudy Day’, Emperors of Soul, Motown 0338 (1994) [disc notes]