The early history of The Temptations parallels that of The Supremes. The group actually started life as The Primes while The Supremes were called The Primettes. They joined Motown at roughly the same time and employed the classic gospel group formula; a light tenor against a gutbucket rasp, with flashes of falsetto for emphasis.
The Temptations’ debut album (Meet The Temptations) signalled that the group were ready to become stars. The LP wasn’t overloaded with hits, and their trademark harmonies weren’t quite polished yet – but the potential was obvious on such songs as Check Yourself and Farewell My Love.
Both Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin had their bright moments and The Way You Do The Things You Do marked the official beginning of The Temptations reign.
The Temptations had the benefit of the significant writing and production skills of Norman Whitfield and Smokey Robinson – who crafted songs for them such as The Way You Do The Things You Do and My Girl – and any doubts that the group would be the ruling group of the soul era were forever erased with their third album, The Temptin’ Temptations.
The record contained classics such as Don’t Look Back, Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue), I’ll Be In Trouble and My Baby, which were seldom off the airwaves or discotheque turntables.
Ruffin left in 1968, the year the group experimented with psychedelia (Cloud Nine and Psychedelic Shack) and Kendricks quit in 1971.
Beset by personal problems and undergoing treatment for alcoholism, Paul Williams also left in 1971 but continued to draw a salary as an adviser and supervisor of the group’s choreography.
Increasingly the group fell under the spell of Norman Whitfield’s grandiose productions, although Whitfield rose to the occasion magnificently in 1972 with Papa Was A Rolling Stone – It was the group’s last #1 hit – and in 1976 the group left Motown for a brief stint with Atlantic before returning to the fold.
Paul Williams committed suicide on 17 August 1973. Police found his body slumped over the steering wheel of his car in Detroit – barely two blocks from the Motown offices. There was a gun in his hand and a bullet hole in his forehead. He was 34.
David Ruffin died of a drug overdose in the early hours of 1 June 1991 at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. He was 50 years old.
Eddie Kendricks died of lung cancer in October 1992, aged 52.
Melvin Franklin, the soulful bass voice of The Temptations, died in Los Angeles on 23 February 1995. The 52-year old was struck by heart failure resulting from a brain seizure while being treated at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Dennis Edwards died in Chicago in February 2018. He was 74.