Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



One of the longest-running and best-loved soul vocal groups, formed c.1962 in Detroit. Original lineup: bass Melvin Franklin (b David English, 12 October 1942, Montgomery AL; d 23 February 1995, Los Angeles), lead singer Eddie Kendricks (b 17 December 1939, Birmingham AL; d there 5 October 1992); Otis Williams (b Otis Miles, 30 October 1941, Texarkana TX), Paul Williams (b 2 July 1939, Birmingham AL; d 17 August 1973) and Eldridge Bryant. Otis Williams and Bryant, with James Crawford, Bernard Plain and Arthur Walton, sang in the classic doo-wop early soul style as the Questions, the Elegants, then the Distants; by 1959 Crawford, Walton and Plain had been replaced by Melvin Franklin, Albert Harrell and Richard Street (b 5 October 1942, Detroit; d 27 February 2013) and the group had located in Detroit, to where the Primes (Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and C. L. Osborne) had moved from Birmingham. They decided to merge, with Harrell, Osborne and Street leaving; they signed with Berry Gordy's Miracle label as the Elgins (a 'sister act', the Primettes, later became the Supremes), and became the Temptations on the Gordy label.

A few early singles were unsuccessful; Bryant left, replaced by David Ruffin, sharing lead duties with Kendricks; in early 1964 they scored the first of nearly 40 USA top 40 hits with 'The Way You Do The Things You Do', written and produced by Smokey Robinson; early the next year they had their first no. 1 USA with his 'My Girl', still a masterpiece. Smokey worked with them into 1966; songs such as his 'It's Growing' and 'Get Ready' now regarded as classics did not reach the top ten. Norman Whitfield was assigned to the group working with Brian Holland, but soon on his own for top ten hits 1966-7 included 'Beauty Is Only Skin Deep', '(I Know) I'm Losing You', 'You're My Everything', 'All I Need'. Ruffin went solo in '67, citing insufficient reward, replaced by Dennis Edwards (ex-Contours; b 3 February 1943, Fairfield AL; d 1 February 2018, Chicago) who fitted in perfectly ('I Wish It Would Rain' top five '68).

This was a breakthrough at Motown for Whitfield (b 12 May 1941 in Harlem; d 16 September 2008, Los Angeles; varous years of birth are mentioned, but the obits said he was 67). He spent a lot of time in pool halls as a youngster, moving with his family to Detroit when his father changed jobs. The hits became smaller, but Whitfield began writing in a more psychedelic soul style perhaps inspired by Sly Stone, and they went into orbit again: 'Cloud Nine' and 'Runaway Child, Running Wild' were top ten, 'I Can't Get Next To You' their second no. 1, all '68-9; 1970 saw more top ten hits plus a third no. 1 'Just My Imagination' early '71, a by now untypical ballad. By then Kendricks had left to go solo, replaced by Damon Harris (b Otis Robert Harris Jr, 17 July 1950, Baltimore; d 18 February 2013); Paul Williams, suffering from poor health, was replaced by stand-in Street, who meanwhile had worked in admin for Motown and in a minor group, the Monitors. Their brilliant fourth no. 1 was 'Papa Was A Rolling Stone' '72, but after 'Masquerade' the same year there were no more top ten hits, though lesser entries included six top 40s.

They continued through '84 with personnel changes: Harris was replaced '75 by Glenn Leonard (b 1948, Washington DC), Edwards '77 by Louis Price (b 1953, Chicago). There were no hits '77-9 as they left Motown (though one of two Atlantic LPs Hear To Tempt You '77 reached the top 200 albums); they returned to Motown '79 with Edwards returning in place of Price. Reunion '82 with Kendricks and Ruffin was a top 40 LP; Leonard was replaced by Ron Tyson, in '84 Edwards by Ali Ollie Woodson (b 12 October 1951, Detroit; d 30 May 2010 of cancer, Los Angeles). Through it all Franklin's amazing deep voice and co-founder Otis Williams were present; The Temptations 25th Anniversary Album '86 was about their 50th, including collaborations with the Supremes '69-70 (top three single 'I'm Gonna Make You Love Me'). Many albums remained in print; a three-LP Anthology (later on two CDs) is a great compilation. Kendricks's solo career moved slowly; he broke through '73 with no. 1 'Keep On Truckin' ', top three 'Boogie Down'; switched to Arista '77 but had no luck; he received a boost from a reunion '82 and a Live Aid appearance and an album with Ruffin and Hall & Oates '85.