I have written about my love for David Ruffin several times in this column, and I have made it clear that in my opinion David was the greatest soul singer who ever lived. There are a raft of his recordings with the Temptations and on his own to prove my point. But how much do we really know about David’s elder brother Jimmy, a great singer in his own right?
When Jimmy got out of the Army in 1964 he was offered a job with the Temptations. The job became available when Elbridge Bryant left the group. Before Jimmy could say yes, the Temptations heard his younger brother David sing, and offered the job to David instead. So Jimmy resumed the solo career he had started at Motown in 1961, but success was slow to arrive.
When you hear the name Jimmy Ruffin you immediately think of one song, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” And why not? The record, which was released by Motown subsidiary Soul Records on June 3, 1966, was a massive hit. “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” was not only Ruffin’s biggest hit, it was the biggest hit for songwriters William Witherspoon, Paul Riser, and James Dean (although Dean also co-wrote “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” a #1 hit for Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr.).
Witherspoon produced the record along with Mickey Stevenson, the head of A&R at Motown in those years, and the writer and producer of numerous hits for the label. “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted was originally intended to be recorded by the Spinners, but Ruffin talked Dean into letting him record it by convincing Dean that the lyrics of the heartbreaking ballad resonated deeply with him.
As you might expect, the musical power behind the record came from the legendary Funk Brothers, who were on hand to highlight Ruffin’s powerful vocal performances. Two Motown vocal groups, the Originals (who had their own hit with “The Bells” in 1969) and the Andantes, made up the background choir. The epic collaboration resulted in a record that reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #6 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart.
As well as you may think you know “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” you might not know that Ruffin original recorded a spoken word introduction for the record. These were the lyrics:
A world filled with love is a wonderful sight
Being in love is one’s heart’s delight
But that look of love isn’t on my face
That enchanted feeling has been replaced
When it came time for the final mix, the decision was made to drop the spoken word section. That’s why the final record has such an unusually long instrumental introduction. The spoken word verse can be heard on some recent Motown reissues.
“What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” wasn’t the end of Jimmy Ruffin’s success. He scored chart hits with “I’ve Passed This Way Before” in late 1966, and “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got” in 1967. It proved difficult for Ruffin to top his triumphant hit however. There was an album with his brother David, I Am My Brother’s Keeper, which saw a little bit of success.
Other Motown artists, including Gladys Knight & the Pips, Michael Jackson, and Eddie Kendricks, began recording the songs that had been associated Ruffin, and turning them into the hits that Ruffin didn’t have with his versions. In fact, Ruffin was the first artist to record the huge Temptations’ hit “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep.”
With his sense of identity no longer intact, Ruffin left Motown. He recorded for Polydor and Chess without much success and was out of sight during the disco era. In 1980 Ruffin staged a comeback when his Robin Gibb-produced album Sunrise spawned the Top Ten single “Hold On To My Love.”
In the ’80s Ruffin moved to England where he collaborated on a benefit record with Paul Weller (“Soul Deep”), which was released under the name the Council Collective. In 1986 he sang with Heaven 17 on “A Foolish Thing To Do” and “My Sensitivity.” There were duets with Maxine Nightingale and Brenda Holloway, and Ruffin even had his own radio show in the U.K.
When his brother David died of a drug overdose in 1991, Jimmy became an outspoken anti-drug advocate. These days he lives in Las Vegas. The most recent Jimmy Ruffin album, There Will Never Be Another You, was released in 2012.
There have been many covers of “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” over the years. My favorite is from 2002, when Joan Osborne got together with the Funk Brothers, some of whom had played on the original record, for a performance of the classic song for the film Standing in the Shadows of Motown.