When most people think about The Temptations’ lead vocalists, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks are the first names to come up, and with good reason. Those two men are responsible for a solid chunk of the hits that confirmed the Motown legends’ superstar status. However, they were far from the group’s only lead singers, and far from the group’s only impactful lead singers. From original singer Paul Williams to Ali-Ollie Woodson, who guided the group through a solid run of Eighties-era hits, The Tempts have delivered a master class on great vocalizing for over five decades now.
Quite possibly the most unsung of their great lead vocalists is Dennis Edwards. The Birmingham native initially served as David Ruffin’s replacement in 1967. He stood out front many of the Temptations’ classic “psychedelic soul” hits, including “I Can’t Get Next To You” (well, everyone sang lead on that one), “Cloud Nine”, and infamously sang lead on the #1 smash “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” despite initially refusing to? Why? Because the opening lyric was “it was the 3rd of September…that day I’ll always remember…’cause that was the day my daddy died,” and his father actually passed away on September 3rd.
Edwards made several entrances and exits from the group. Founding member Otis Williams’ autobiography paints him as a bit of a flake and a hothead. His first exit came in 1977, right before the group left Motown for Atlantic Records. He rejoined when the group came back to Motown in 1980, only to get bounced again in 1983. While he’d tried a go at a solo career earlier, this time around he’d score a hit on his own for the first time.
1984’s “Don’t Look Any Further” was a radio smash, going all the way to the #2 position on the R&B charts. Originally conceived as a duet with Chaka Khan, Dennis’s female counterpart on the song wound up being a young protégé of Quincy Jones by the name of Siedah Garrett. They two delivered a smoky performance on this laid-back funk jam, complete with African chanting (very big following “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’”) and a bass-heavy rhythm that would be sampled and replayed by everyone from Eric B. & Rakim to Milli Vanilli in the coming years.
I vaguely remembered there being a video for this song, but didn’t have definitive proof until I hit YouTube up recently. Anyone want to venture a bet that the budget for this clip was under $250? Of course, videos were much more primitive back in these days-especially R&B videos-but, DAMN! This video is equal parts tragedy and comedy, from the ultra-cheap green screen to Edwards smacking gum throughout the clip to the not-very-classy humping movements made, predating Bobby Brown by at least half a decade. One commenter notes that “some songs are meant to be heard and not seen,” and when it comes to this particular video, I can pretty much say I agree.
Edwards had a handful of other solo hits, with none reaching the heights of “Further,” and within a couple of years, he was back in the Temptations…only to get bounced for a third time in 1989. After a recording project with Ruffin and Kendricks got scrapped (following the deaths of both other men,) Edwards went on the road with his own group of Temptations, incurring the wrath of Otis Williams, who got his lawyers on the case. Williams (the last living original Temptation) still records and tours, while Edwards also tours as “The Temptations Revue Featuring Dennis Edwards.”
Garrett, meanwhile, went on to score a #1 smash with “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” on which she was the featured vocalist alongside Michael Jackson. She also co-wrote Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror” and “Keep The Faith,” scored a handful of dance-pop hits under her own name, and briefly recorded and toured as the lead singer of British soul group The Brand New Heavies. I guess those accomplishments are enough to live a video this awful down, but that might just be too close to call.