Perhaps more than any other, 1965 was the year when the five Temptations were as one. When the impossibly pure harmony of their voices was fused with soul and style, with peerless choreography and some of the finest material created by Smokey Robinson, all to deliver the success and stardom for which these five young men yearned. All for one, and one for all.
“Everything seemed to happen in 1965,” declares group founder Otis Williams in his autobiography, Temptations, “and things moved in a flash, so it’s hard to find any benchmark. It was that year, though, when it struck me and, I’m sure, the rest of the guys, that we were bigger than we ever dared imagine.”
Temptin’ Temptations proves why, qualitatively and commercially. Released in November ’65, it showcases not only the distinctive voices of tenor David Ruffin and high tenor Eddie Kendricks, but is also a reminder of baritone Paul Williams’ underrated talent, all combined with six superior songs from Smokey, and another half-dozen sourced from Norman Whitfield, Eddie Holland, Mickey Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter.
The five singers opened 1965 in style. “My Girl” was a No. 1 R&B success in January, crossing in March to the peak of the pop charts alongside Zombies, Pacemakers and Beatles. After a more modest seller, “It’s Growing,” the Temptations’ third hit of the year was this album’s opening track – and arguably its most compelling. “Since I Lost My Baby” is almost three minutes of desolation, with Ruffin’s haunting lead caught in an endless loop of loss, reinforced by ascending piano and bass lines, and a cascade of strings. Seamless harmonies – and Melvin Franklin’s unmistakeable bass interjection (“Oh yeah”) – double-down on David’s dismay, while offering listeners the purest example of the Temptations’ togetherness.
There is nothing else on Temptin’ Temptations as lyrically downbeat as “Since I Lost My Baby,” although “Just Another Lonely Night” comes close. The group coalesces around featured vocalist Paul to echo his sorrow, an effect also achieved by the band track’s vibes and brass. The song was written and produced by Stevenson and Hunter, who were also responsible for “Born To Love You,” a foot-stomper with a more optimistic outlook, fronted by Eddie Kendricks. Even so, listen out for David’s second-half squall (“Don’t you believe!”) and the hint of another Ruffin – Jimmy – on the session.
The Temptations’ fourth hit of ’65 was “My Baby,” an uptempo tune in which David Ruffin – thankfully – returns to happiness, extolling a lover’s virtues with the help of stacked harmonies from his compadres. As a single, the flipside of “My Baby” was “Don’t Look Back,” an R&B hit in its own right and another of this album’s enduring copyrights. Here, Paul Williams displays his formidable skill across a Smokey Robinson lyric that concurrently calls upon the rest of the group in back (“The past is behind you/Let nothing remind you”). Otis Williams remembers a part in their concert routine “where we all fanned out across the stage slick as water, leaving Paul in the center. At that point, he’d start breaking the song down and really milking it as only he could.” Amen.
But if Paul could milk, Eddie could deliver. His exquisite falsetto takes centre stage on “I’ll Be In Trouble” and “The Girl’s Alright With Me,” coupled to fine effect as a 1964 single. The latter track serves to spotlight Motown’s studio crew, too, with a rollicking pianist (Earl Van Dyke, perhaps, or Johnny Griffith) and a drummer (if not Benny Benjamin, then Uriel Jones or Pistol Allen) pounding every corner of the kit. This was also producer Norman Whitfield’s initial release with the Temptations, two years before “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” earned him first choice in that role.
Kendricks commands on still more material here, including “Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue),” “You’ve Got To Earn It” and “I Gotta Know Now.” He swings with “Everybody Needs Love,” while throwing a catch to Melvin Franklin towards the tune’s close, and takes a rather old-fashioned turn with “You’re The One I Need.”
But at this point in the Temptations’ career, the lead vocalist on any particular number was only one of five siblings of song, untouched by the future’s dissent and departures. Unity underpins Temptin’ Temptations – that, and a record company still shaping “The Sound of Young America” into a force for civil harmony, too.
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