20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: The Temptations.
What: The group’s second album, created to capitalise on their first Number One smash, “My Girl,” which was still in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 as Motown released this 12-track set. The LP included their 1964 breakthrough hit, “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” and “It’s Growing,” released March 18, 1965 as a single to follow “My Girl.”
When: The songs on The Temptations Sing Smokey were recorded between late 1963 and early ’65. In particular, producer Smokey Robinson completed five tracks during sessions held May 6-7, 1964, including “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” and “What’s So Good About Goodbye.” The album was issued March 22, 1965 and became Motown’s best performer on the Billboard R&B charts that year, accumulating a total of 18 weeks at Number One. (For more on the Temptations, read here.)
Where: As usual at this stage in Motown history, its Studio A on West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, was where Smokey, the Temptations and the company’s session players, the Funk Brothers, recorded the contents of this album. The quintet performed shows up and down the U.S. during 1964, but stayed at home for Christmas, when they took part in the annual holiday Motortown Revue at the Fox Theater. Also on the bill were Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the Marvelettes, among others.
Why: “Through the years, ‘Smokey’ has been drawn to the Temptations probably because in their own way, they likewise represent many of those ideals and achievements which make ‘Smokey’ the person that he is,” wrote Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. in the original liner notes for The Temptations Sing Smokey. He added that “this magnetism” between Robinson and the group “inevitably produced results which have given myself, and our entire organization, great pride in our association with them. It has also, I am sure, given you the same enjoyment.”
What else: Eddie Kendricks handles lead vocals on most of the album’s tracks, but David Ruffin is out front for “My Girl” and several others, including the group’s version of the Miracles’ celebrated flipside, “Who’s Lovin’ You.” The soulful tones of Paul Williams take command for “You Beat Me To The Punch,” a Smokey song first heard as a hit for Mary Wells. It’s also likely that an earlier Temptation, Elbridge “Al” Bryant, is singing on “Baby, Baby I Need You,” which was completed in October 1963 before he was fired by the group. After that, Ruffin joined them.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?