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.”