Close your eyes, and you can see The Temptations performing in your mind. One lead singer, four (usually) dancing and singing along. Flashy suits. Excellent choreography. And yet it wasn’t the visual that’s most distinctive about these Motown sensations. It was always the music.
The Temptations got off to a slow start. In fact, their first seven singles failed to make the Billboard Top 100. Finally, in 1964, Eddie Kendricks took the lead on “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” and the Temptations had their first Top 20 hit. At the end of that year, they finally had their first number one song, this time with David Ruffin singing lead. It remains their signature song to this day — “My Girl.”
From 1965 to 1973, the group had 16 more Top 20 hits, all but two of which made it at least to number 8. These hits were (with highest chart position): “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (13), “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” (3), “I’m Losing You” (8), “All I Need” (8), “You’re My Everything” (6), “I Wish it Would Rain” (4), “I Could Never Love Another” (13), “Cloud Nine” (6), “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” (with the Supremes) (2), “Runaway Child, Running Wild” (6), “I Can’t Get Next to You” (1), “Psychedelic Shack” (7), “Ball of Confusion” (3), “Just My Imagination” (1), “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (1), and “Masterpiece” (7).
David Ruffin left in 1968, Eddie Kendricks departed in 1971. The group continued to record and tour, and still tours to this day, though Otis Williams is the only original member still with the group.
Lots of other groups, both within Motown and without, have copied The Temptations formula of harmony and choreography. None has come close to matching the charisma and staying power of Motown’s most successful male group…