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The Temptations are an American vocal group from Detroit, Michigan, who released a series of successful singles and albums with Motown Records during the 1960s and 1970s. The group's work with producer Norman Whitfield, beginning with the Top 10 hit single "Cloud Nine" in October 1968, pioneered psychedelic soul, and was significant in the evolution of R&B and soul music. The band members are known for their choreography, distinct harmonies, and dress style. Having sold tens of millions of albums, the Temptations are among the most successful groups in popular music.
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Featuring five male vocalists and dancers (save for brief periods with fewer or more members), the group formed in 1960 in Detroit under the name the Elgins. The founding members came from two rival Detroit vocal groups: Otis Williams, Elbridge "Al" Bryant, and Melvin Franklin of Otis Williams & the Distants, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Primes. In 1964, Bryant was replaced by David Ruffin, who was the lead vocalist on a number of the group's biggest hits, including "My Girl" (1964), "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" (1966), and "I Wish It Would Rain" (1967). Ruffin was replaced in 1968 by Dennis Edwards, with whom the group continued to record hit records such as "Cloud Nine" (1968), "I Can't Get Next to You" (1969), and "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" (1970). The group's lineup has changed frequently since the departures of Kendricks and Paul Williams from the act in 1971. Later members of the group have included singers such as Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, and Ali-Ollie Woodson, with whom the group scored a late-period hit in 1984 with "Treat Her Like a Lady" and in 1987 with the theme song for the children's movement program Kids in Motion.
The group recorded two Northern singles including "Come On" (1959) and "Alright" (1960). Between these releases, Albert "Mooch" Harrell replaced Pee-Wee Crawford. "Come On" became a local hit, and the Warwick Records label picked the record up for national distribution. Following the release of "Alright", Matthews appointed Williams the group leader, and the group's name was changed to Otis Williams & The Distants. During this period, both the Primes and Distants were influenced by other vocal groups including the Miracles. Other inspirations included the Cadillacs, Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, the Drifters, and the Isley Brothers. Though "Come On" was a local hit in the Detroit area, the Distants never saw much record sales, and "Alright" was not as successful. After receiving an offer from Berry Gordy to sign with Motown Records, the Distants got out of their contract with Northern Records. However, Mooch Harrell and Richard Street shortly departed from the group and the remaining members lost use of the Distants name. Richard Street later formed another Distants group who recorded for the Thelma label in the early 1960s.
The original name for the new lineup of Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Elbridge "Al" Bryant, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams was the Elgins. Under that name, the group auditioned for Motown in March 1961. Already impressed with some of the members after hearing session work, Berry Gordy agreed to sign the group to the Motown imprint, Miracle. However, before signing, Gordy discovered another group was using the name of Elgins. The group began tossing about ideas for a new name on the steps of the Hitsville U.S.A. studio. On a suggestion from Miracle Records employee Billy Mitchell, songwriter Mickey Stevenson, and group members Otis Williams and Paul Williams, the Temptations became the group's new moniker. The "Elgins" name re-surfaced at Motown in 1965, when Gordy renamed a quartet called the Downbeats as the Elgins.
During this time, David Ruffin began following the group around as he aspired to join them. During a local Detroit performance, Ruffin joined the group onstage and impressed the group with his vocal talent and dancing skills. Following that same time, Al Bryant had grown frustrated with the group's lack of success and became restless and uncooperative, preferring the mundane routine of his day job as a milkman over the rigors of rehearsal and performing. After a second altercation onstage at a Christmas performance, following an incident where he struck Paul with a beer bottle during a heated quarrel at an earlier gig in the middle of the year, Bryant was summarily fired from the group. As a result, David Ruffin was brought in as his replacement in January 1964. Though Ruffin's brother Jimmy was also considered for the slot, David was selected following his performance with them in 1963.
Norman Whitfield had requested the opportunity to write for the group and in 1966, Berry Gordy promised him that if Robinson's "Get Ready", with Eddie Kendricks on lead, failed to chart in the Top 20, Whitfield would be allowed to produce the next song. "Get Ready" subsequently missed its mark, and Gordy issued the Whitfield-produced "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", with David Ruffin on lead, as the next single. "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" outperformed "Get Ready" on the Billboard charts, and Whitfield became the Temptations' new main producer. He began pulling the group away from the ballad-based productions espoused by Robinson, toward a harder-edged and brass-heavy soul sound reminiscent of James Brown.
Nearly all singles Whitfield produced prior to 1968 featured David Ruffin on lead, including the R&B number-one/pop Top 10 hits "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep", "(I Know) I'm Losing You" and the early 1967 hit "(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need". Other important singles from this period include "All I Need", produced by Frank Wilson, a Whitfield protégé, and the "You're My Everything", on which Kendricks and Ruffin share lead. Studio albums during the "Classic Five" period apart from Meet the Temptations include The Temptations Sing Smokey (1965), The Temptin' Temptations (1965), Gettin' Ready (1966), The Temptations with a Lot o' Soul (1967), and The Temptations Wish It Would Rain (1968).
From early 1964 to mid 1968, the Temptations went from unknown hopefuls to international stars and as a result, appeared frequently on television shows such as American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show, and The Hollywood Palace. At the same time, the group began to achieve a crossover success, catering to middle America with a pop standards album (The Temptations in a Mellow Mood, 1967), the success of which resulted in performances at the famous Copacabana in New York City along with dates at other similar supper clubs. Outside of music, the Temptations were made honorary members of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
Edwards and Ruffin were good friends, and at first, Ruffin went along with the changing of the guard and encouraged Edwards. However, at Edwards' official debut with the Temptations in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on July 7, Ruffin came to the show and jumped onstage, taking the microphone from Edwards, singing lead on "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", and disappearing as quickly as he had appeared. Ruffin repeated this stunt several times throughout the group's July tour run. Despite the group hiring extra security to keep Ruffin out, he continued to find ways to sneak into the venue and jump onstage when the group performed one of the songs he had once sung lead on.
After Gaithersburg, Ruffin stopped attempting to disrupt the Temptations' concerts and instead turned his attention to the Motown offices back in Detroit. He sued Motown in October 1968, seeking a release from the label, but Motown countersued to keep the singer from leaving and the case was eventually settled out of court. The settlement required Ruffin to remain with Motown as a solo artist to finish out his contract.
The addition of Dennis Edwards to the Temptations coincided with the adoption of a new sound for the group by producer Norman Whitfield, and in the fall of 1968, Whitfield began producing psychedelic-based material for the Temptations, derived primarily from the sound of funk bands Sly & the Family Stone and Funkadelic. This new style, which debuted with the Top 10 hit single "Cloud Nine" in October 1968, was a marked departure from the David Ruffin-era ballads. The instrumentation was funkier, the beat was hard-driving, and all five Temptations traded lead vocals, similar to Sly & the Family Stone. "Cloud Nine", the centerpiece of the group's landmark Cloud Nine LP, was a Top 10 hit and won Motown its first Grammy Award, for Best R&B Vocal Group Performance of 1969.
Paul Williams, who suffered from sickle-cell disease, fell into depression because of the stress of touring and personal issues. By the late 1960s, he had developed a serious case of alcoholism. Having never previously consumed anything stronger than milk, he began to drink quite heavily, and it was hard to take, according to Otis Williams. As his physical and mental health began to decline sharply, it made performing increasingly difficult. Williams began traveling with oxygen tanks, and the other four Temptations made valiant efforts to raid and drain his alcohol stashes.
Eddie Kendricks became detached from the group after David Ruffin's firing and as the health of Paul Williams continued to fail. He regularly picked fights with Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin, which often became violent, and in addition, he preferred the ballad material from the earlier days and was uncomfortable with the psychedelic soul material the group was now performing. Kendricks rekindled his friendship with Ruffin, who persuaded him to go solo. He no longer felt he had a say in Otis Williams's handling of the group and was also convinced Motown's handling of the Temptations' finances was cheating the group out of money. Kendricks, being the only member to continue an alliance with Ruffin, also repeatedly suggested that Ruffin should be allowed back into the group, despite the other members' strong objections.