I have made no secret of my love for the Temptations. I often reflect on the sad fate that took four of the five members of the group’s classic lineup from us far too soon. Otis Williams remains, still out on the road with the current edition of the Tempts, and there are several splinter groups featuring past members, but for me it’s the music of that classic lineup that resonates. David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, and Melvin Franklin. It was that lineup that I saw on stage in the gym at Seton Hall University in 1967. In my time I’ve seen the Beatles perform live, the Rolling Stones a number of times, and many others. But that Temptations show is as treasured a live performance memory as I have.
Smokey Robinson and Ronald White of the Miracles wrote and produced “My Girl” for the Temptations. The song was released on the Gordy (Motown) label, and in 1965 it became the Temptations first #1 hit. It was also the first Tempts single to feature David Ruffin as the lead vocalist. Prior to that time, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams shared that role. It was Smokey Robinson who noticed Ruffin’s talent and decided that he should sing lead on the song. The Funk Brothers were the backing band, as they were on nearly every Motown hit of the era.
Everyone has heard “My Girl” many, many times over the years. The song has been covered by such leading lights as Otis Redding, Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones, and the Mamas & the Papas. It has been featured in films and on television time and time again. But what I would like to present to you today is a version of “My Girl” that you may not have heard. This vocals-only version of the Temptations hit provides powerful testimony to the vocal skills of David Ruffin and his bandmates. If you listen closely, you can hear the instrumental track bleeding through, but it’s only minimal, allowing the vocals to shine incandescently. This is the sound of one of the greatest vocal groups in history at the peak of their powers.
In December, 1968, the Temptations appeared on an NBC television special called TCB. By this time Dennis Edwards had replaced David Ruffin, but the reason I want you to see this video is for the performance of Paul Williams in the lead vocal role on “For Once In My Life.” Williams suffered from sickle-cell anemia and depression, which forced him to leave the Temptations in 1971. A couple of years later he was dead, an alleged suicide. Williams took the lead vocal role on a number of Temptations hits, but this is his moment, the unforgettable, emotional performance that ensured his legacy. It’s simply one of the most moving performances of any type that I have ever seen. Take a few moments to marvel at the majestic power of music, and the depth of the human soul.
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