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Posts Tagged ‘The Temptations’

Jackson Five – “I’ll Be There,” Pop #1, R&B #1

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

To say that the Jackson 5’s formula was successful would be a terrific understatement. Three upbeat, bubblegum hits, all penned and produced by Berry Gordy and his faceless Corporation, all No. 1 pop and R&B smashes.

Gordy’s decision to break from the formula for the group’s fourth hit was shocking. Not known as one to mess with a sure thing, Gordy dumped the Corporation and partnered with Hal Davis, Willie Hutch and Bob Wests to craft a ballad that placed Michael Jackson directly the spotlight, and relegated his brothers to a support role.

The result was the J5’s most successful single ever, selling 4 million copies in the United States and cementing the band’s career beyond bubblegum. “I’ll Be There” was also the group’s last No. 1 hit; three more singles ceilinged at No. 2.

Only 12 years old at the time, Jackson dumps more emotion into his delivery than many singers twice his age possess. His clarion call to give love another chance is graceful and penetrating. Gordy positioned Diana Ross as the J5’s mentor – her influence shines in Jackson’s delivery, both in phrasing and tone.

“I’ll Be There” was covered by Mariah Carey and Trey Lorenz as a duet in 1992. The single was her sixth No. 1 hit, but the less said about her treacly reading the better. More interestingly, it appeared on the fourth album by Southern California punk rockers Me First and the Gimme Gimmes in 2003, who frequently recorded ironic covers. “I’ll Be There” graced two other Motown releases. The Temptations recorded a version for their 2006 album “Reflections” and sister La Toya Jackson cut it for her 1995 covers album. Many artists, including Carey, the New Kids on the Block, Jaime Foxx and Ne-Yo and Green Day performed “I’ll Be There” in tribute to Jackson after his death on June 25, 2009.

Michael Jackson performed “I’ll Be There” on all of his solo tours, frequently getting emotional and breaking down mid-song.

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Diana Ross – “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Pop #1, R&B #1

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

This was the moment. For years, Berry Gordy had been grooming Diana Ross to become a star. First he pushed the hesitant child to the forefront of the Supremes, then elevated her to top billing. Now she was on her own.

Ross’ first single, “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)” was a respectable Top 20 hit. For anyone else, it would have been a brilliant success. But at Motown, and especially for Ross, Top 20 was not good enough. She had to top the charts.

For her follow-up effort, Gordy turned to Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who also penned “Reach Out.” Instead of writing a new number, however, the pair reached back to a song that had been a Top 20 hit for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell three years earlier. Their choice wasn’t well received. Ross was hesitant to cut a song that had already been a hit with someone else. Besides, she had also performed the song when the Supremes paired with the Temptations for a television special and album in 1968.

Eventually, Ross was persuaded to record a re-imagined version of the song. While Gaye and Terrell’s arrangement build upon the synergy of their voices, the new vision opens with Ross’ affirmation of love, like a lonely, long-distance telephone call. The backing chorus of Ashford and Simpson, the Andantes and several other Motown studio singers builds slowly in the background underneath Ross’ promises of devotion. By waiting so long to grow into the refrain, the familiar strain is even more powerful.

When the finished track was submitted to Gordy he was not pleased. He thought the song should open with the chorus (an arrangement Ross later used in her live shows). In a story that mirrors Gaye’s recording of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” it wasn’t until DJs started cutting down the six-minute album track and playing it on the radio that Gordy finally acquiesced. Just as before, “Mountain” made a major star out of its singer.

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” has been played, performed and sampled so often it sometimes feels like a cliché. It seems every time a director wants a feel-good moment when the underdog triumphs they reach for this song (which must make Gordy, Ashford, Simpson and their bankers very happy). When the song reaches ears voluntarily, however, it is still a delight.

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Rare Earth – “Get Ready,” Pop # 4, R&B # 20

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Motown’s signing of Rare Earth in 1968 was the sign of a label attempting to spread its wings. Although Rare Earth wasn’t the first all-white rock group signed by to Motown (that would be the Messengers in 1967), it was the most successful.

“Get Ready” was the Earth’s second and biggest single. The song was originally recorded by the Temptations in 1966 when it rose to No. 29. It was written by Smokey Robinson and Pete Moore and Bobby Rogers of the Miracles. When the Temptations version of “Get Ready” failed to chart high enough, Robinson passed production reigns of the group over to Norman Whitfield.

But that was four years ago, before the psychedelic movement and power trios started stretching songs to fill an entire album side. Which is exactly what Rare Earth did to “Get Ready.” Modeled after their show-closing performances, the song reached more than 21 minutes and packed the entire second side of their Motown debut.

The quintet lobbied label honcho Berry Gordy to release the song as a single, but given the song’s length he balked at the proposition. Finally, a three-minute edit was released in February, 1970 and the song shot up the chart.

Despite the genre transplant, “Get Ready” emerged relatively unaltered. The horn line was replaced with electric guitar, and faux crowd noise was added. The biggest change was Pete Rivera’s gritty white soul vocals replacing Eddie Kendricks’ tough falsetto. A saxophone solo by Gil Bridges closes the number.

The song became a staple not only for Rare Earth and the Tempts, but was a sort of label warhorse. It was included on albums by the Supremes, Miracles, Smokey Robinson on his own, and again by the Temptations in 1991.”Get Ready” was also covered by pop-punk band Ash, the Scottish folk band the Proclaimers and sampled by the Black Eyed Peas, who later turned it into a full-blown cover for their singer Fergie on her solo album.

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David Ruffin – “My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me),” Pop # 9, R&B # 2

By Joel Francis

Former Temptation David Ruffin stuck pretty close to his old band’s template on his solo debut. The Harvey Fuqua/Johnny Bristol song was slated to be the Tempts’ next single, but Ruffin was able to sweet talk taking the song with him when he was fired. With backing vocals provided by the Originals, the song sounds enough like the Temptations casual listeners could be forgiven for thinking the news of Ruffin’s departure was nothing but a bad dream.

The lyrics also deal with the frequent Temptations theme of lost love. Like he did in “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Since I Lost My Baby,” Ruffin ruminates over how a promising relationship soured and what to do with the loneliness and ache.

A Top 10 pop hit that just missed the top spot on the R&B charts, “My Whole World Ended” was a promising start to Ruffin’s new career. Unfortunately, the problems that plagued him in the Temptations continued to haunt. Because he wasn’t a songwriter, Ruffin was dependent on others for material, and Ruffin’s erratic behavior and continued drug use didn’t endear him to many Hitsville songsmiths. Ruffin caused further problems when he started forcing his way onstage during Temptations concerts. Fans were ecstatic to hear the old singer deliver the hits, but the group, with new member Dennis Edwards, was less than enthused.

Despite these problems, Ruffin maintained a decent solo career. Although he never matched the success of “My Whole World Ended,” he had several minor hits peaking with another Top 10 smash on 1975’s “Walk Away From Love.”

There was a flurry of immediate covers after the release of “My Whole World” in early 1969. The Chi-Lites, Kiki Dee and the Spinners all recorded interpretations of the song within 18 months of its initial release.

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The Temptations – “I Wish It Would Rain,” Pop # 4, R&B # 1

By Joel Francis

“I Wish It Would Rain” had been out less than two weeks when songwriter Roger Penzaben took his life on New Year’s Eve, 1967. The heartache and melancholy Temptation David Ruffin poured into his singing was Penzaben’s story.

In the spring of 1967, Penzaben caught his wife in an affair. Unable to cope with the pain and betrayal, Penzaben dumped his feelings into the lyrics. Producer Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, who had previously teamed on Tempts’ classics EX.

The song opens with a few stately piano chords before Ruffin takes over. Backed only by a tambourine, it’s practically a cappella. Ruffin’s voice drips with so much sorrow that it’s hard to believe just three years prior he had “sunshine on a cloudy day.”

The understated strings and arrangement bear the hallmarks of Motown’s classic Holland-Dozier-Holland productions. It’s hard to believe that in less than a year, Whitfield and the Temps would be on the vanguard of the psychedelic soul movement.

It’s also hard to believe that “Rain” was Ruffin’s next-to-last single as a Temptation. Ruffin’s cocaine addiction and insistence that the group follow Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross’ leads and  be renamed “David Ruffin and the Temptations led to his firing in the summer of 1968. When the Temps again cracked the pop Top 10 with “Cloud Nine,” both Ruffin and Whitfield’s traditional arrangements were long gone.

Shortly before the Tempts debuted their psychedelic sound, Gladys Knight and the Pips took gave “Rain” an encore lap that reached Nos. 41 and 15 on the Pop and R&B charts, respectively. In 1973, Marvin Gaye recorded a funk version that was released as the b-side of his No. 1 hit “Let’s Get It On.” That same year, British slopsters The Faces had a U.K. hit with their interpretation. Aretha Franklin and hair metal band Little Caesar have also recorded versions of this miserable masterpiece.

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Second Emotion

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – “I Second That Emotion,” Pop # 4, R&B # 1

By Joel Francis

Smokey Robinson was Christmas shopping with fellow Motown songwriter Al Cleveland when Cleveland let slip the malapropism “I second that emotion.” Intrigued, Robinson penned a lyric about a man disinterested in flirting, fishing for long-term love. In other words, it’s the complete opposite of every Kiss song ever.

The arrangement and delivery is relaxed and easy. Never a forceful singer, Robinson lets the horns punctuate his pleas. His vocals are soft and comforting as a pillow, while Miracle Marv Tarplin’s guitar pulls the song over the unusually subdued percussion. There’s no climax or resolution to the number – the horn breakdown in the final moment is as close as we get. It’s almost like Robinson is auditioning the idea.

The song fades before we learn the woman’s reaction, but audiences were delighted, sending “I Second That Emotion” into the Top 5 and earning the Miracles their sixth million-selling single.

Less than two years later, Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations teamed up for a television special and album. “Diana Ross and the Supremes Join the Temptations” featured their interpretation of “I Second that Emotion,” which was a Top 20 UK hit (the single was not released in America). The album marked the debut of new Temp Dennis Edwards, who replaced the troubled David Ruffin. Miracle guitarist Tarplin reprised his role for the all-star revision. The song has a diverse cover life, with performances issued by Jerry Garcia, ‘80s synth band Japan, and “Stand By Your Man” country singer Tammy Wynette.

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Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – “More Love,” Pop # 23, R&B # 5

By Joel Francis

Smokey Robinson has penned dozens of gorgeous love songs throughout his career, but few are affecting as “More Love.” The reassuring lyrics speak to the tragedies the couple suffered as a result of life on the road. Between 1957 and 1964, Claudette Robinson had eight miscarriages. This heartbreaking back story adds to the romance of the chorus:

“More love, more joy,
|Than age or time could ever destroy.
My love will be so sound,
It would take about a hundred lifetimes
To live it down, wear it down, tear it down.”

The song opens with some gospel chords on the piano before the gently insistent bassline enters. Robinson’s voice appears on a pillow of strings, as the arrangement slowly builds underneath. After Robinson delivers the chorus a second time, the performance pulls back to that great bassline before reaching a climax that sustains through the rest of the song.

Foreshadowing Motown’s cross-country relocation, the track was performed by Los Angeles session musicians before the Miracles – including Claudette – overdubbed their voices in Detroit. It’s unclear why Robinson, who also produced the cut,  bypassed the Funk Brothers, but the public didn’t seem to mind. The song was wedged near the top of both the pop and R&B charts in the spring of 1967.

Foreshadowing another Motown move, “More Love” was the second single credited to “Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.” Berry’s decision to give Robinson top billing started the avalanche that benefitted Diana Ross and Martha Reeves but doomed David Ruffin and the Temptations.

Smokey and Claudette eventually had two children, both named in tribute to Motown. Son Berry Robinson was the namesake of label founder Berry Gordy, and daughter Tamla Robinson was named after the Hitsville subsidiary.

Former New Christy Minstrels singer Kim Carnes had a No. 10 hit on the Adult Contemporary charts in 1980 with her reading of “More Love.” The song was her biggest hit until “Bette Davis Eyes” hit No. 1 the following year. “More Love” has also been covered by Paul Young, Barbara McNair and the 5th Dimension.

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The Temptations – “(I Know) I’m Losing You,” Pop # 8, R&B # 1

By Joel Francis

The list of Motown songs based around a guitar riff is a short one, but this masterpiece should be at the top of that one and several others. Producer Norman Whitfield wrote the song with Edward Holland of Holland-Dozier-Holland, but the Temps’ road manager Cornelius Grant supplied the signature guitar line. Grant’s contribution not only got him co-writing credit, but earned him the spot to play on the record – that’s him you hear on guitar in the song.

The Temptations’ classic line-up was in full effect for this number. David Ruffin nails the vocals. The rasp in his voice makes it sound like he’s been up all night drinking, smoking and thinking about where this relationship has gone. When the rest of the Temps chime in with “looosing you” it sounds like a desperate cry echoing out of the abyss.

The subtleties in Whitfield’s arrangement take center stage in the last minute of the song, as the playing of Eddie “Bongo” Brown and the Funk Brothers horn section take over. Check out that great trombone line and how the long low note underscores the desperate feel of the song. You can hear Ruffin’s world collapsing as the horns ramp up and dance with the voices as the song fades out. The gravity of the situation would be dire if it weren’t so easy to dance to.

Seizing on the rock elements of the song, Rare Earth cut a 10 minute cover for their 1970 “Ecology” album. Motown cut the track down to three minutes and released it as a single that summer where it peaked at No. 7 on the pop charts, one slot higher than the Temptations’ original. The greatest bar band of all time, the Faces, cut their version a year later. It was also released as a single and appeared on Rod Stewart’s blockbuster “Every Picture Tells A Story” album. In 1983, Texas pop group Uptown Girls released a dance version of the song.

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Jimmy Ruffin – “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” Pop #7, R&B #6

By Joel Francis

Jimmy Ruffin isn’t as well-known as his brother, the late Temptations singer David Ruffin, but Jimmy didn’t land at Motown through nepotism. Raised in Mississippi, Jimmy sang with David in the family gospel group. When he was drafted, Jimmy entertained the troops with his doo-wop singing. After the military, he settled in Detroit. Jimmy auditioned for Motown and was signed before his brother, but success didn’t come as quickly.
Relegated to supplying handclaps and finger snaps, Jimmy was forced to earn a living on the automotive assembly line. After a few failed singles, Jimmy broke through with his third single, “As Long As there is Love,” written by Smokey Robinson, and finally hit big with “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.”
Songwriters William Witherspoon, Paul Riser and James Dean originally intended this song to go to the Spinners, who would later give Motown a Top 20 hit with “It’s a Shame.” When Ruffin heard the number, it resonated so deeply within that he begged the trio to let him record it. The resulting single was the biggest and best-known of his career.
The song’s long introduction was the result of producer Mickey Stevenson’s decision to remove Jimmy’s spoken-word verse from the final mix. A restored version was later released on several Motown compilations. But the instrumental prelude does a great job of establishing the setting for Ruffin’s “land of broken dreams.” Songwriter Riser is best known as Motown’s in-house arranger. His string arrangements that appear on albums by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Diana Ross and many more. One of the few Funk Brothers to emerge from the Snakepit – their nickname for Motown’s garage-cum-recording studio – with a writing credit, his influence may explain the song’s sweeping, theatrical feel.
Jimmy released another dozen singles and four albums – including one with David – for Motown. In the mid-’70s, he signed with Polydor, who released two of his albums. Jimmy’s final album, “Sunrise,” was produced by Bee Gee Robin Gibb and released in 1980. Shortly afterward, Ruffin moved to England where he had his own talk show and continues to tour.
The song was covered by Diana Ross and the Supremes in 1969, but ignored until Dave Stewart and Zombies singer Colin Blunstone cut a version in 1981. The duo may have been spurred by the success of “Sunrise” and Jimmy’s immigration to their native England. Ten years later, Paul Young’s cover hit No. 1 on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart on the back of its appearance in the film “Fried Green Tomatoes.”

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The Contours – “First I Look at the Purse,” Pop #57, R&B #12

By Joel Francis

The name on the label says “The Contours,” but all four of the singers who found success with 1962′s chart-topping “Do You Love Me” were gone by the time this number came out three years later.

A novelty song penned in the vein of Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller’s classic Coaster’s numbers, it’s hard to imagine songwriters Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rodgers presenting this number to their group, the Miracles. But since none of the Contour’s follow-up efforts had cracked the Top 40, they had a little leeway for fun.

The production combines the Motown Sound with a spirit similar to Jimmy Soul’s 1963 hit “If You Wanna Be Happy.” In Soul’s song, ugly women cause fewer problems that pretty ones. For the Contours, fiscal assets are more desirable than physical ones. Or as the lyrics so eloquently put it, “If the purse is fat/that’s where it’s at.”

It’s not surprising the number failed to catch on, although it did prevent the group from becoming a one-hit wonder. What is surprising is the longevity of the group. As the original lineup fell away, Berry Gordy kept replacing members. Billy Gordon, the man who sang lead on “Do You Love Me” was replaced by Joe Stubbs, brother of Four Tops vocalist Levi Stubbs. After Stubbs left, Dennis Edwards was recruited to front the group.

It seemed the end for the Contours when the Temptations plucked Edwards to be their frontman in 1968. Founding member Joe Billingslea had other plans. Nearly 10 years after he left the group, Billingslea, a founding member, resurrected the name and hired four other singers to play and record with him around Detroit.

The band found themselves in demand after the Motown 25 concert and the 1988 film “Dirty Dancing,” which prominently featured “Do You Love Me.” The subsequent Dirty Dancing Concert Tour found Billingslea reunited with his old bandmate Sylvester Potts and recording for Motor City Records. In the early ’90s, Potts split from Billingslea’s quintet and started his own four-piece lineup, also called The Contours. Today, both Joe Billingslea and the Contours and The Contours featuring Sylvester Potts can be found on the oldies and county fair circuit.

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