The Temptations were one of the most notable singing groups to come out of Motown in the 1960s and 1970s, with voices as harmonic as their suits were ostentatious. They helped establish the landscape of soul music at the time, making great contributions to rhythm and blues in the process.
Like many groups that came out of Motown, the Temptations experienced occasional changes in their lineup. However, one lineup in particular is known as the “Classic 5.” While the original lineup was made up of members from two different Detroit musical groups, the Primes (Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks) and Otis Williams & the Distants (Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin and Al Bryant), the Classic 5 was the lineup that resulted in Al Bryant’s 1964 replacement by David Ruffin.
Ruffin’s rich tenor voice, which producer Smokey Robinson admired for its subtly rugged qualities, resulted in a number of hits. The group had already been popular for songs like “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” but Ruffin brought things to a new level with “My Girl.” The Classic 5 era was also responsible for songs such as “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Get Ready,” and “I Wish It Would Rain.”
In 1968, Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards. There were a few hits under Edwards’ tenure as well, such as “I Can’t Get Next to You” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” although “Just My Imagination” is notable for the fact that Edwards did not actually lead. Instead, the song featured Eddie Kendricks, who was preparing to leave the group to establish his own career.
Regardless of their lineup, the Temptations were veritable trendsetters. They recorded a number of songs in the 1969 and 1970 known as “psychedelic soul” numbers, one of the most groundbreaking of which was “Cloud Nine.” Other songs included “Runaway Child, Running Wild” and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today).” Their chart-topping pop hit, “I Can’t Get Next to You,” is also classified as a psychedelic soul number. The primary formula for psychedelic soul was a mixture of Motown vocals with the funk groove associated with James Brown, backed by instruments associated with psychedelic rock. This resulted in songs with energetic vocals and fast-paced drum beats, often including bass and guitar.
The Temptations went through a few movements in their music, and other performers of the time often moved with them. Singers such as Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, not to mention the Four Tops, occasionally adopted similar styles of mixing soul and R&B. Their foray into psychedelic soul could also be said to have influenced musicians such as George Clinton, Anthrax, and Duran Duran. Other label-mates at Motown, such as the Jackson 5, also learned from the Temptations. Their rich yet rugged sound, their loud colors and flashy suits, and their memorable dances all played a part in influencing contemporary singers and musicians, leading to a growth of the music scene throughout the Temptations’ career during the 1960s and 1970s.
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