The Temptations were born when the Distants merged with the Primes and discovered another singing group was using the name they selected for the group—the Elgins—and a new moniker was needed. Original members included Elbridge (Al) Bryant, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams and Paul Williams. David Ruffin replaced Al Bryant soon after Motown signed the group.
Known for their fancy footwork, vocal versatility and showmanship, the Temptations’ influence on R&B and soul music has been compared by music experts to the impact the Beatles had on pop and rock. Like their first Top 20 hit in 1964, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” no other group could do things the way the Temptations did: They danced with elegant precision, sang with tight harmonies and sported the sharpest wardrobe in show business. Almost any member of the group could take the lead: Eddie with his sweet falsetto (“Just My Imagination”), Paul with his gritty baritone (“Don’t Look Back”), Melvin with his rumbling bass (“Old Man River”) and, of course, David, whose soulful second tenor was frequently called upon to handle the group’s up-front assignments (“Beauty Is Only Skin-Deep”).
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With ongoing support from Motown’s Artist Development team, the Temptations excelled at performance. Cholly Atkins, who had been one-half of a famous dance duo and had helped other well-known musical groups hone their acts, developed many of the Temptations’ signature moves and guided them until they achieved perfection. Think of the Temptation Walk: What other singing group’s name is attached to a world-famous dance-step?
The Temptations’ iconic R&B ballad, “My Girl,” was written by Smokey Robinson and fellow Miracle Ronnie White and produced their first number-one pop hit in 1965. Norman Whitfield took over the reins as the Temptations’ producer with 1966’s “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Ever versatile, the group scored with audiences around the world with 1967’s “The Temptations in a Mellow Mood,” a collection of Broadway standards that featured different group members singing lead vocals.
Whitfield led the Tempts in a new direction in the late 1960s and early 1970s, producing records that were dubbed “psychedelic” soul, such as “Cloud Nine,” “I Can’t Get Next to You” and “Psychedelic Shack,” all of which reached the Top Ten charts. By this time, former Contours member Dennis Edwards had stepped into Ruffin’s spot in the group and helped take the Temptations to higher ground through the remainder of the 1970s. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the Temptations #67 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.