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As their name suggests, the Temptations' music was hard to resist. It was so irresistible, they became arguably the most successful vocal group of the '60s and one of the defining acts that made Detroit soul as important an export for the city as the cars produced by General Motors or Ford.
And the group's collective talent allowed them equal success as a sweet soul group in the early '60s, and as the makers of socially charged, muscular soul in the late '60s and early '70s.
The Temptations came together with the merger of two Motor City vocal groups: the Primes, led by Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, and the Distants featuring Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin. Originally called the Elgins, they quickly renamed themselves the Temptations, but one element was still missing. That proved to be tenor David Ruffin. Shortly after his addition, the group went into the studio with Smokey Robinson and emerged with their first Top 20 hit, 1964's "The Way You Do The Things You Do." The quintet followed in 1965 with their first No. 1 hit, "My Girl," which was co-written by Robinson.
As the decade progressed, producer/songwriter Norman Whitfield took the reins in the studio and the husky-voiced Ruffin handled more leads. The result was a grittier urban sound on hits such as "(I Know) I'm Losing You" and "I Wish It Would Rain."
After Ruffin's departure in 1968, which led to the addition of Dennis Edwards, the Temptations segued into more politically aware songs. Hits such as "Ball Of Confusion (That's What The World Is Today)" made them among the earliest Motown acts to make socially conscious music, likely influencing such labelmates as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, who in the early '70s would take their cue from colleagues such as the Temptations as well as the changing times to make explosively strong activist music.
Still working closely with Whitfield on songs he co-wrote with Barrett Strong, the Temptations scored other lasting hits such as "Cloud Nine," "Run Away Child, Running Wild," "Psychedelic Shack," and "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone." And just to prove they could still record perhaps the world's greatest ballad, they also reached No. 1 with "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" during this period.
Nearly 40 Top 40 hits over a 50-plus-year career through various lineup changes is a glowing testament to a group that so defined, embodied and inhabited the role of the R&B vocal group, it might be tempting to call them the ultimate vocal group of all time. Don't feel bad if you give in to that temptation.
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