In September of ’66, the wicked Wilson Pickett may have been shaking up the soul scene with his “Land Of 1,000 Dances,” but the mighty Motown was everywhere, and so were the temptin’ Temptations.
What a year they were having: top of the R&B charts in April with “Get Ready,” then in June with ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,’ then again on this date 49 years ago, September 24, 1966, with “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep.” The Temptations’ Christmas gift was a fourth R&B No. 1 in a row, the best sequence of their career, with “(I Know) I’m Losing You.”
While “Get Ready” was a Smokey Robinson composition and production, both “Beg” and “Skin Deep” were songs written by the emerging Norman Whitfield with Eddie Holland of the Holland-Dozier-Holland triumvirate. Whitfield came through the Motown ranks as a songwriter first, with Marvin Gaye’s “Pride and Joy,” before winning his production spurs on the Temptations‘ “The Further You Look, The Less You See,” as well as Kim Weston’s “Love Me All The Way.”
The huge success of “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” — also a top 15 pop single and the Temptations’ biggest U.K. hit to date, at No. 21 — increased Whitfield’s stock as a producer and landed him the honour again. He was also in the chair for that next No. 1 triumph, “(I Know) I’m Losing You.”
“Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” was a song that already had Motown history. Norman had started work on it two years earlier, intending it for the Temptations before the Miracles recorded it. That version was unreleased when the Temptations’ version came out in early August, 1966, but, just after theirs hit the top (and gave them their first U.K. top 20 hit, at No. 18), the Miracles’ recording made it out, on their “Away We A Go-Go” album in November.
Jimmy Ruffin, too, recorded “Skin Deep” before his brother David’s lead vocal helped to make the Temptations’ version definitive; Jimmy’s cut took another 17 years to emerge, on the album “Motown Superstars Sing Motown Superstars.”
Listen to “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep” on the album The Very Best of the Temptations on Spotify: