Review #371: Anthology, The Temptations

Karla Clifton
5 min readApr 11, 2023

#371: Anthology, The Temptations

And here we have another compilation album. I’ve long since abandoned trying to decide whether they’re worthy of being on RS’s list, but secretly I’m starting to love them. They’re great tools to acquaint yourself with a band’s entire legacy all at once. Plus, with a band like the Temptations, you can quite literally trace their lineage.

RS calls them the “greatest black vocal group of the modern era,” but the Temptations aren’t just a group — they’re an institution. Just look at the Wiki page outlining the dozens of line-up changes they went through. Where do you even start with a group like that?

Let’s start with the band’s only constant member, Otis Williams. Despite his dedication to the band, he nearly never sang lead, instead serving as a baritone backup singer. He did, however, sometimes give a spoken word, quasi-rap performance. (See “I Ain’t Got Nothin’” for his only lead on this record.)

The biggest surprise to me was the fact that Smokey Robinson wrote and produced the majority of their early songs. (See “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “I’ll Be in Trouble,” “Since I Lost My Baby,” and “My Baby.”) In fact, he was essentially their creative lead until 1966, when his final contribution to the group: “Get Ready,” which features the most badass falsetto on a doo-wop-soul tune ever recorded.

That falsetto belongs to Eddie Kendricks, who sang lead on most of their early hits. Sometimes Kendricks’ hurt my head a bit — I can only dream of hitting some of the notes he hits on “The Girl’s Alright With Me,” “Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue),” “You’re My Everything,” and “Please Return Your Love To Me.” Kendricks eventually left, in large part because he didn’t agree with the musical direction the Temptations went in later on — his final song was “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).” They replaced him with Damon Harris, who was a perfect fit, with soaring vocals that rival Michael Jackson in the Jackson Five. (See “Love Woke Me Up This Morning.”)

Though he wasn’t an original member, David Ruffin is considered a member of the Temptations’ “Classic 5,” with a voice so good that Smokey Robinson wrote “My Girl” specifically for him. Ruffin sang lead on dozens of their hits: see “It’s Growing,” “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” “All I Need,” and “(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It’s You That I Need.” My favorite Ruffin-helmed-hit is “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” which I might make my ringtone. Another highlight is “I Wish It Would Rain,” a surprisingly contemplative tune from their early era. Though he was a standout of the group, he was fired in 1968 for being difficult. His final song? “I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You).” As you can guess, his solo career didn’t gain much traction. Ruffin would be replaced as lead singer by Dennis Edwards, who first appears on “Cloud Nine.” (See also “Mother Nature.”)

As for the other two members of the Classic 5, there was Paul Williams (not to be confused with the composer of the same name), who’s biggest vocal showcase on this album is “Don’t Look Back.” Williams suffered from sickle-cell anemia (just like Prodigy of Mobb Deep) and passed away from an apparent suicide shortly after he left the group due to health problems.

Finally, we have the deep-voiced Melvin Franklin — the only original member of the group other than Otis that stuck around. (Melvin’s departure unfortunately had to do with his death.) They would have a bitch of a time replacing him. He doesn’t get as many lead vocal parts as the rest of them, but his parts are always memorable — his low delivery of And the band played on on “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” became a classic in and of itself. But I loved the songs where takes the lead — “I Truly, Truly Believe” and their interpretation of Show Boat’s “Ol’ Man River” (naturally) both give him a starring role. (Side note, I love the other songs they lifted from Broadway musicals, “Try To Remember” from The Fantasticks and “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha.)

After Sly & the Family Stone released “Dance to the Music” in 1967, the Temptations changed tactics. Primary songwriter Norman Whitfield began writing psychedelic rock. It’s a departure from the softer stuff that made them famous. I actually didn’t mind — I was definitely feeling some fatigue from all the love songs, and psych-rock let them cover way more subject matter, like youthful hubris (“Runaway Child, Running Wild”) and platonic jealousy (“Don’t Let The Joneses Get You Down”). I also liked that it seemed to make their vocals more democratic, allowing the group to trade off verses instead of giving one the lead and relegating the rest to backup (see “I Can’t Get Next To You” and “Funky Music Sho’ ‘Nuff Turns Me On”). They even break some ground — their song “Psychedelic Shack” is one of the first to make use of sampling. They also released one of the first-ever diss tracks, “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are),” aimed at former members Kendricks and Ruffin. Oop.

The Temptations are still technically performing, with Otis Williams and four others — some of whom were born after the Temps’ released their earliest hits. This Greatest Hits record only spans eight years, and ends with what Otis Williams has said that he considers the last true classic the group released: “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” It’s the most complex song on this record, instrumentally and lyrically.

Otis Williams has said that the Temptations “didn’t love themselves.” It’s a sad observation, about a group that was famous for its love songs. He never sang lead, but he had the last laugh. In that same interview, he adds, “In my home, there’s a big painting … of all of the Temptations. I stand there and look at that painting and think how I had to deal with 24 strong personalities, and here I stand today.”

Most Fun (And Only) Feature: Diana Ross & the Supremes! They partner with the Temptations on “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” But for a second, I could have sworn that Ross’ falsetto was actually Kendricks.

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