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The Temptations

Reviewed on this page:
Sing Smokey - Temptin' Temptations - Gettin' Ready - With A Lot O' Soul - In A Mellow Mood - Wish It Would Rain - Live At The Copa - Cloud Nine - Puzzle People - Psychedelic Shack - Christmas Card - Sky's The Limit - Solid Rock - All Directions - Masterpiece - 1990 - The Hit Man - Who I Am - Wings Of Love - Do The Temptations - Hear To Tempt You - Bare Back - Power - Give Love At Christmas - Love Keys - Reunion - Truly For You - For Lovers Only - Phoenix Rising - Awesome

The Temptations were Motown's top-selling male vocal group, racking up a ton of mid-60s hits, most of which were written by Smokey Robinson. Unique among the label's acts in that all the vocalists were able to sing lead, they succeeded with a variety of material, from ballads ("My Girl") to heavy R&B ("Ain't Too Proud To Beg"). Producer Norman Whitfield became the group's primary songwriter (with Barrett Strong), and starting around 1969 he led them into Sly Stone-inspired psychedelic funk, with lyrics that were increasingly insightful socio-political statements (including "Ball Of Confusion," which was only released as a single). It kept them at the top of the charts, but in fact the band's best records came before and after the psychedelic period: Whitfield's endless orchestral excursions and relentless wah-wah made albums like Psychedelic Shack difficult to sit through. While the band underwent rapid personnel changes, Whitfield moved on, and later produced popular but unambitious albums for Rose Royce ("Car Wash," "Love Doesn't Live Here Anymore"). (DBW)

Solo careers by Ruffin, Edwards, and particularly Kendricks were all successful in the 1970s, and the group continued to dominate the R & B charts well into the 1980s despite numerous firings and hirings of lead singers, and short-lived reunions of the "classic" late 60s lineup - for example, Edwards left and returned on at least two separate occasions. Otis Williams continues to run the group, which he founded, despite the fact that he's the only surviving original member.

There's virtually nothing on the web about the Temptations, other than useless stuff like amateurish notices of their latest live appearances, and an uninformative obituary of Melvin Franklin, who died in March, 1995. (JA)

Personnel (all vocalists):

Elbridge ("Al") Bryant (tenor), Melvin Franklin (bass), Eddie Kendricks (lead, high tenor), Otis Williams (baritone), Paul Williams (baritone, some leads). Bryant replaced by David Ruffin (lead, tenor), 1963. Ruffin replaced by Dennis Edwards, 1968. Kendricks replaced by a succession of tenors and Paul Williams by Richard Street, 1971; Williams committed suicide, 1973. Franklin, Kendricks, and Ruffin all died of unrelated causes in the early 1990s. By 1998 the lineup was Otis Williams, Harry McGilberry Jr., Barrington Scot Henderson, Terry Weeks and Ron Tyson.

Meet The Temptations (1964)
Smokey Robinson contributes their first hit, "The Way You Do The Things You Do" - it's classic early Motown, uptempo and celebratory, with witty lyrics, almost Cole Porter-style. The only 60s studio album we haven't heard. (DBW)
This compiles all 12 single sides the band released from November, 1961 through January, 1964; with the order scrambled, it's a grab-bag that spans a rapid progression in Motown's sound. The only early single that's not included is the band's first, 1961's "Oh Mother Of Mine/Romance Without Finance." The original Al Bryant lineup is featured except on the latest and the only hit, "The Way You Do/Just Let Me Know," with Ruffin. (JA)

Sing Smokey (1965)
- This is where you'll find "My Girl," the group's first #1 hit and perhaps their most enduring tune. And with Robinson writing that and everything else here, there's a lot of strong material and a consistent tone: just look at the great hit "It's Growing," which sounds a lot like "My Girl" and is every bit as magnificent. But there are problems: "The Way You Do The Things You Do" gets recycled from the last record, and the second side has a lot of tunes already recorded by other acts ("You Beat Me To The Punch"; "What's So Good About Goodbye"; "You've Really Got A Hold On Me," first a hit for the the Miracles and then cut by the Beatles). David Ruffin's super-smooth high tenor lead vocals get a little monotonous, and there are a ton of romantic slow dance tunes that now seem dated - like fine antique china you might think is pretty, but probably don't want to haul out too often. Still, it's always entertaining, the vocals are superb, and the few new gems like the 6/8 ballad "You'll Lose A Precious Love" make this worth owning. Their first album to break into the pop Top 40, it also hit #1 on the R & B chart, as did almost all the rest of their studio albums through 1973 (!). (JA)
- With more great Robinson tunes than most of his own albums, this is a good argument against buying greatest hits records. Though the covers are obvious filler, they're still enjoyable. (DBW)

Temptin' Temptations (1965)
- This is a really solid classic-era Motown record, full of swinging bass lines, crisp drumming, soaring orchestral arrangements, and incredible harmonies. The material is almost without exception first rate: Smokey wrote half the tunes and Whitfield collaborated with Eddie Holland on four others. On several tracks the entire Motown machine rumbles into its overpowering top gear - particularly the hits "Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue)" (left over from 1964) and "Since I Lost My Baby." And the chipper B-side "My Baby" somehow broke the Top 40 on its own even though the solid, but somewhat plodding A-side "Don't Look Back" failed to do so. The group's very biggest mid-60s hits are on other albums, the instrumentation and tempo are pretty monotonous, and the record ends with a string of relatively primitive tunes like Hunter and Stevenson's "Born To Love" and Smokey's finger-snapping 1964 hit "I'll Be In Trouble. But there's enough magic here to satisfy any fan. (JA)
- For me, the fact that the album's key tracks haven't been played to death on the radio only makes this a more exhilarating experience - "Girl" and "I'll Be In Trouble" are gorgeous. The best album of the early period. (DBW)

Gettin' Ready (1966)
Again, most tracks are by Robinson, with several more by Whitfield, and again, it's outstanding. The album's hits weren't their biggest, but are among their most memorable: Smokey's propulsive "Get Ready," and "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" by Norman Whitfield and Eddie Holland, a heavy R&B tune (later covered by the Rolling Stones) with a wonderful, pleading Ruffin vocal. Other fine tracks include Smokey's "Little Miss Sweetness" and "You're Not An Ordinary Girl," and Whitfield's "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" (which he resurrected three years later for Marvin Gaye. Otis Williams even gets a co-write on the 50's finger-snapper "Not Now (I'll Tell You Later)," written with Robinson. There's also a lot of routine rock and roll tunes (Hunter and Stevenson's "It's A Lonely World Without Your Love," Robinson's "Who You Gonna Run To") which keep the album from being wall-to-wall excitement. (DBW)
The last LP produced by Robinson, this came out shortly before the major hit "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep," which never appeared on a regular studio LP after being featured on a contemporary greatest hits record. (JA)

Live! (1967)
Mostly big hits, plus "Yesterday" and "Ol' Man River." (DBW)

With A Lot O' Soul (1967)
A small step up from the previous discs, both commercially and artistically, as Whitfield's approach to R&B got funkier (the terrific hit single "(I Know) I'm Losing You") and his ballads got smoother ("You're My Everything," "(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need" - both major Top 40 hits). Robinson's contributions aren't up to par, but they're passable ("No More Water In The Well," "Don't Send Me Away") and one track each was contributed by Frank Wilson ("All I Need" - yet another hit) and Holland-Dozier-Holland ("Just One Last Look," with a clever descending chord progression). (DBW)
"(Loneliness Made Me Realize) It's You That I Need," released after the album and the other three A-sides, also climbed high into the Top 40. (JA)

In A Mellow Mood (1967)
- Having no idea how to deal with the huge changes in pop music at this time, Motown at first pushed its premier male vocal group as far away from the cutting edge as possible. Gordy temporarily handed them over to producers Jeffrey Bowen and Frank Wilson and had them cover a pile of creaky movie and show tunes like "The Impossible Dream," Sondheim and Bernstein's staggeringly pompous "Somewhere," Franklin's embarassingly corny take on "Ol' Man River," and the ridiculous 50's hepcat anthem "Hello Young Lovers" (from The King And I). Much of it is downright painful, with smothering, overblown orchestration, crawling bass lines, and the Temptations providing just the slightest hint of soul (Paul Williams on "For Once In My Life"; Kendricks on "With These Hands"; Tom Jones' ludicrous "Try To Remember," which even Kendricks can't salvage). And the more listenable stuff is mostly finger-snapping, Frank Sinatra-style pop driven by jazzy piano and overenthusiastic horns ("That's Life"; Kendricks' impressive lead on "A Taste Of Honey"; H-D-H's "I'm Ready For Love," the only original and easily the most fun - exactly because of its weird blend of Motown and big band clichés). Not coincidentally, this collection marked the group's move into supper club venues. None of the tracks were released on singles. (JA)
- I think this was more a one-off attempt to reach the middle-aged white audience than a real shift in direction - it parallels the Supremes' Sing Rodgers & Hart, for example. Anyway, unless you're a Sinatra fan you're probably better off without this. "Ol' Man River" is indeed a low point, as is "That's Life." The H-D-H original is basically a rewrite of "You Can't Hurry Love," with almost the same bass line; the version of "For Once In My Life" is so slow and ponderous it seems a completely different song from the one Stevie recorded. (DBW)

Wish It Would Rain (1968)
- The despondent title track (later covered by the Faces) was the big hit, but there's more to like here. Whitfield couldn't decide whether to stick with the mainstream Motown formula ("I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)" and "Cindy" sound like Holland-Dozier-Holland down to every chord, word, and arranging detail) or mess with it ("He Who Picks A Rose"). Both approaches are successful, and James Jamerson plays beautifully on the lesser tunes "I Truly, Truly Believe" and "This Is My Beloved." This was David Ruffin's last Temptations record before leaving for a solo career. (DBW)
- A last hurrah not just for the gravelly-voiced Ruffin (who gets most of the leads) but the classic Motown sound ("Gonna Give Her All The Love I've Got"), with every track sounding like it could have been recorded two years earlier. Still, it's pretty solid, with extraordinary harmonies ("I Could Never Love Another"), great bass lines ("He Who Picks A Rose"), a couple of fine, stratospherically high-pitched Eddie Kendricks spotlights ("Please Return Your Love To Me"; Ashford and Simpson's stately "This Is My Beloved"), and that one big hit. Whitfield and Strong wrote about half the record with collaborators (Kendricks on the hard-edged "No Man Can Love Her Like I Do"), there also are two excellent Smokey Robinson tunes ("Cindy"; the smooth and funky "Fan The Flame"), and a few by second-string Motown writers like Deke Richards ("Why Did You Leave Me Darling," a rewrite of "I'm Losing You") and George Gordy (the slightly sappy "I Truly, Truly Believe," with Franklin hitting some inhumanly deep notes). Side 2 is a little weak (Dean and Weatherspoon's plodding "I've Passed This Way Before"), but it's a fine example of the group's classic period. (JA)

At this point the Tempts teamed up with the Supremes for Diana Ross and the Supremes Join The Temptations.

Live At The Copa (1968)
Another Motown attempt to crossover to the older and whiter set, but it's still more sincere and listenable than the Supremes' album recorded in the same venue, mostly because the arrangements hew close to the studio versions instead of spinning off into lounge cornball. As you'd expect, they perform much of Mellow Mood ("Hello Young Lovers," "The Impossible Dream," "For Once In My Life"), plus "Swanee," which would have fit right in there. The highlights here are the cuts from Wish It Would Rain ("I Could Never Love Another"); the closing take on "(I Know) I'm Losing You" is too frantic to come across on disc. Without Ruffin the group didn't attempt most of their biggest hits, and thus there are no tunes repeated from the previous live set. Each group member gets a shot at lead vocal; Dennis Edwards made his Tempt debut on "Please Return Your Love To Me." (DBW)

Cloud Nine (1969)
Here Whitfield was just starting to adapt to the era's musical revolutions with experimental song structures and "hip" instrumentation, like prominent congas and wah-wah pedals. The lyrics also experiment, with the two hits (title track, "Runaway Child, Running WIld") grappling unconvincingly with Important Social Issues. For Motown, this sort of experimentation was quite radical - but elsewhere the guys stick with tried-and-true Motown formulas: sweet orchestration ("Hey Girl"), broken romance lyrics (danceable soul like "Why Did She Have To Leave (Why Did She Have To Go)"), and brilliant bass lines courtesy of James Jamerson (the brassy "I Gotta Find A Way (To Get You Back)"). There's even a disappointingly dull version of Whitfield-Strong's "Heard It Through The Grapevine," already a huge hit for both Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye. For the most part, this is thoroughly enjoyable Motown that just makes you wish the running time was longer. (JA)
Whitfield took total control of the group's direction here, and stayed in Svengali mode for several years. (DBW)

The Temptations Show (1969)
From a TV special, including a bunch of hits from "Get Ready" to "Cloud Nine." (DBW)

My Whole World Ended (Ruffin: 1969)
Ruffin's first solo album was a success; the title track went Top Ten. (DBW)

Puzzle People (1969)
By late '69 Motown seems to have been in something of a panic. The band's cover shot makes them seem stiff and uncomfortable in their mock hippie gear, and a sudden desire to catch up affects the music as well: there's a laughable, sitar-laden cover of "Hey Jude" (at least it's short); and a few disastrously silly stabs at racial politics ("Message From A Black Man," complete with a long, weird, nearly-a capella fade; the endless "Slave"). Whitfield also plasters amateurish and distracting effects - distortion, reverb, wah-wah, whatever - on most of the guitar tracks ("That's The Way Love Is"; the funky "It's Your Thang," also ruined by echo on the vocals). The band was still more comfortable when it stuck with its slick soul sound (the up-tempo "You Don't Love Me No More"; the elegant "Since I've Lost You"). But the modernized production comes off as brilliant, Sly Stone-inspired funk on the album's A-sides - the outstanding lead-off "I Can't Get Next To You," and the wildly exciting "Don't Let The Joneses Get You Down," both of which feature all the group members. (JA)

Feelin' Good (Ruffin: 1969)

The Temptations & Supremes charted another studio album, Together.

Psychedelic Shack (1970)
- Oh dear. The preceding two albums were quite successful, and Whitfield opted to run the same production gimmicks into the ground with this release: the fuzzed and wah-wah'd guitars are still on virtually every track; there are a couple of long sound-effect laden "experimental" tracks that fall flat ("Friendship Train," "Take A Stroll Thru Your Mind"); tune after tune is based on a simple pentatonic riff; and most painful of all, Whitfield replaced Jamerson because he preferred to hear the bass line repeat exactly the same way over and over again. The hit title track is more dated psychedelia, not as interesting as earlier attempts like "Cloud Nine," although it deserves note for sampling an earlier Tempts tune ("Can't Get Next To You") and for being sampled itself on Public Enemy's "Welcome To The Terrordome." The best track is "You Make Your Own Heaven And Hell Right Here On Earth," but even that is strictly formulaic. For some reason "Ball Of Confusion" was left off - it would have strengthened the album considerably. (DBW)
- He's right, this is an artistic muddle of a record that didn't deserve its Top Ten chart performance. The solid, standard-issue tunes like "You Need Love Like I Do (Don't You)" form a sad minority, and the rest is hard to bear. (JA)

Christmas Card (1970)
Yes, a conventional, lushly orchestrated Christmas album, produced by Barrett Strong and Clay MacMurray. Without the Whitfield funk-rock distractions, you notice how personable and engaging the Temptations can be, and just about everyone gets a vocal feature. If the material and arrangements were up to the level of the singing, this would be my favorite holiday season album, but they're not. The songs are the tackiest ("Silver Bells," "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer") and most overrecorded ("White Christmas," "The Christmas Song," "Silent Night") imaginable, with the only Motown tunes being Eddie's feature "My Christmas Tree" and Melvin's half-spoken version of "Someday At Christmas" (the label's own Christmas standard). Meanwhile the backing varies between Motown clichés (the "Get Ready" bass riff appears on "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" - Jamerson doesn't appear to be on the scene, except maybe on "Let It Snow") and overblown string arrangements ("The Little Drummer Boy") - the Tempts do their best to save the day, and occasionally succeed. (DBW)

Live At London's Talk Of The Town (1970)
Christ, these guys charted more live albums than the Grateful Dead. (DBW)

Sky's The Limit (1971)
A transitional record. There's some of the silly over-the-top experimentation of Psychedelic Shack: "Man," with a prominent metronome, the awful flop single "Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World)" - the title's Swahili, though the record's in English. And there's some of the extended orchestrations and balladry of the following records: the gorgeous "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," a #1 single, and the 12-minute "Smiling Faces Sometimes," later a hit for The Undisputed Truth. Both the above tunes are sung by Kendricks, who left the band during the sessions for this record, and his crystal-clear high register suits the material perfectly. The ballads "Gonna Keep On Tryin' Till I Win Your Love" and "I'm The Exception To The Rule" (half-spoken) are also enjoyable, making the record one of the group's better outings during this period, despite the unevenness. (DBW)

All By Myself (Kendricks: 1971)

Solid Rock! (1972)
Whitfield had temporarily abandoned psychedelia, except on the endless, trite "Stop The War Now," and he came up with some powerful funk tunes including two big hit singles: "Take A Look Around" and "Superstar," a fierce attack on the recently departed Ruffin and Kendricks. "What It Is?" is also memorable, despite the forced hipness of the lyrics. (Paul Williams had also left by the time this record was recorded, replaced by Richard Street.) Unfortunately, Whitfield didn't have enough material to fill out an album, so he recycled "It's Summer" from Shack (and even put it out as a single, which flopped), dredged up "The End Of Our Road," previously recorded by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight, and included a lengthy cover of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine." (DBW)
"Take A Look Around" also sold well. A transitional record, this features Paul Williams last appearance on the flop 1971 single "It's Summer" (a re-recorded Psychedelic Shack tune), and Richard Street on the rest. (JA)

People... Hold On (Kendricks: 1972)
Review coming soon. (DBW)

All Directions (1972)
- The title seems like a comment on the songwriting here - Whitfield used a half-dozen writers, including Isaac Hayes (they cover his then-current Top 40 hit "Do Your Thing," a soft funk number with sexy dance lyrics). Worse, Whitfield had long since dumped his pseudo-psychedelic approach in favor of pleasant, brief, and dull orchestrated ballads, like Damon Harris' solo vocal on the slow-paced "The First Time Ever (I Saw Your Face)" (then a monster #1 hit for Roberta Flack). And there are also some lapses of taste like his "the niggers are coming!" backup vocals on "Run Charlie Run." Sometimes the new formula does work, though, as on Maurice King's cool and creepy "I Ain't Got Nothin'," and Ashford and Simpson's light and melodic "Love Woke Me Up This Morning." And the best entertainment is the two original numbers: Whitfield's Sly Stone-like "Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On," which lives up to its title, and Whitfield and Strong's final collaboration, the 11-minute epic "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." It was the Temptations last #1 hit, and the follow-up "Mother Nature," yet another soft ballad, flopped badly. (JA)
- Jesus, I thought the seven-minute single version of "Papa" was long - at eleven minutes, the tune gets boring, despite all the brilliant arranging touches. And it's downhill from there, with none of the covers breaking new ground, and the better numbers ("Run Charlie Run") simply rehashing earlier pentatonic funk successes. The good news is that, unlike all the other albums from this period, there's no truly bad track on the disc ("Mother Nature" comes close). The smooth version of "Do Your Thing" here is far milder than Hayes' guitar-driven psychedelic original. (DBW)

David Ruffin (Ruffin: 1973)

Masterpiece (1973)
Not exactly. This time Whitfield wrote everything, without a single co-write, and his slow-paced discursive approach gets to be hard to take. He seems to have decided the main problem with "Papa" was that it wasn't long enough, so he gives us a 14 minute title track - unfortunately, neither the words nor the music are interesting. Somehow the single version of the tune became a Top Ten hit, the group's last. Two minor hits are better: "Plastic Man" is closest to their earlier funk triumphs, and "Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)" is a lush if overorchestrated ballad. Best of all is the album-closer "Hurry Tomorrow," which is mellow and harrowing at the same time - kind of like heroin addiction. (DBW)

Eddie Kendricks (Kendricks: 1973)
With the number one smash "Keep On Truckin'," which became words to live by for an entire generation. (DBW)

1990 (1973)
The last Whitfield production; it didn't sell too well, and all of the singles bombed out, but it's definitely a step up from Masterpiece. There's only one superextended orchestral track ("Zoom"), and the other six tracks are varied and interesting: the leadoff single was "Let Your Hair Down," a direct ripoff of Sly's There's A Riot Going On that's still enjoyable, with crude electronic drums and a fiery horn arrangement. The next single "Heavenly" is a lovely string-heavy ballad, while the followup "You've Got My Soul On Fire" is a funky throwback to the group's late 60s sound. "I Need You" is an oddity, a ballad made eerie by echoey production and jangly guitar, and the title track predicts 90s hiphop shockingly well, with minimalist programmed drums and a James Brown-style guitar riff, plus the Temptations' soaring background vocals behind yet another catalog of the nation's woes. For once, personnel is listed, and Motown regulars like Wah Wah, Earl Van Dyke and Jamerson are supplemented with outsiders including Bobbye Hall. (DBW)
Only the title track wasn't put out as a single side. With Whitfield having scored the band major chart successes all the way up to Masterpiece, the singles' miserable chart performances were a sad coda to the collaboration. (JA)

Boogie Down! (Kendricks: 1974)
The title track here went to #2 on the pop charts. (DBW)

Me 'N Rock 'N Roll Are Here to Stay (Ruffin: 1974)
This includes Ruffin's own versions of "Smiling Faces Sometimes" and "Superstar." (DBW)

For You (Kendricks: 1974)
A Song For You (1975)
The Temptations' first post-Whitfield record turned out to be one of the best they ever cut. Veteran Motown producer Jeffrey Bowen stuffed side 1 with P-Funk-style rave ups, including one major hit ("Shakey Ground") and two other, moderately successful singles ("Happy People"; "Glasshouse"). They're danceable and graced with infectious refrains and clever horn arrangements by James Carmichael; plus the band is funky as hell, with horn/keyboard player Donald Baldwin echoing Stevie Wonder, original Funkadelic bassist William Nelson sounding just like Bootsy, and Melvin "Wah Wah" Ragin and Funkadelic regular Eddie Hazel holding down the rhythm on guitar. Side 2 works just about as well, with some lush, super-slow orchestrated ballads like the title track (an old Leon Russell song), the dramatic "Memories," and the band-written "I'm A Bachelor," which adds some ecstatic funk to Motown's old-style brass and class. The harmonies are strong, Melvin gets to deliver some romantic monologues, and the closest thing to a lapse is a needless reprise of "Happy People." Bowen, Baldwin, and Lionel Richie wrote most of the material; "Glasshouse" is attributed to "Charlemagne," and I believe that "Firefly" is a cover of an old Tony Bennett single (!). Ollie Brown is one of three drummers here. "Shakey Ground" was covered capably by Don Henley and Elton John on Elton's Duets album. (JA)

House Party (1975)
Otis Williams says this collection of tracks from disparate sources was released without the group's approval, and is terrible. We're withholding judgment until we can hear it for ourselves. (DBW)

The Hit Man (Kendricks: 1975)
An unfortunate title, as this album produced no charting singles and signalled the beginning of the end for Kendricks's solo career. Produced by Frank Wilson and Leonard Caston, and it's remarkably characterless: not R&B, not ballad-heavy, not disco, not tuneful. H-D-H contribute one tune ("Get The Cream Off The Top"), but it's instantly forgettable like the rest. Kendricks's vocals are as good as ever, but it's not enough to put this over, except for the gentle, lovely "Skippin' Work Today," by J. Chrisopher Fox. Caston co-wrote half the tunes, so probably he deserves the lion's share of the blame. (DBW)

Who I Am (Ruffin: 1975)
Produced by disco mastermind Van McCoy, and it's full of his trademark soaring strings and metronomic rhythms (title track). The style doesn't suit Ruffin's voice particularly well; he only gets to show his stuff on a couple of slower, grittier numbers ("Wild Honey"). "Walk Away From Love" was a Top Ten hit, but it's totally formulaic; the biggest embarrassment is "The Finger Pointers," an obvious ripoff of The O'Jays - who ironically were ripping off the Temptations in the first place. The players are high-caliber: Steve Gadd, Gordon Edwards, Eric Gale, Hugh McCracken. Probably the best full-length McCoy production I've heard, but it's scary how little that's saying. (DBW)

He's A Friend (Kendricks: 1976)
The title track barely broke the Top 40, Kendricks' last single to do so. (JA)

Wings Of Love (1976)
Jeffrey Bowen's last shot at the group, and he hedges his bets: side one is funky R&B written and performed by the Family Stone, and side two is packed with slow synth epics (performed by Donald Baldwin) that closely imitates Stevie Wonder's Music Of My Mind. (Because of Sly Stone's tax problems, he didn't take any composing or arranging credits - keyboardist Truman Thomas may have received them in his place, or may have written the songs himself, it's hard to tell). Neither approach was still commercially viable by the mid-70s, and it's no surprise that the record flopped, especially because Bowen decided to make this a Dennis Edwards solo album: Edwards has all the leads, and the other Tempts are hardly audible. For all that, there is some decent music here: the single "Up The Creek (Without A Paddle)" sounds just like mid-70s Sly, which is no surprise since most of the Family Stone guests, and Baldwin's ballad "Dream World (Wings Of Love)" has a lovely melody. Better than many later albums, but don't expect too much. (DBW)

Everything's Comin' Up Love (Ruffin: 1976)

Do The Temptations (1976)
So called because the bandmembers co-wrote most of the songs. Apparently they'd been wanting to do such an album for years, but Gordy had fought to prevent it, which is yet another testament to Gordy's acumen - this is one painful listen. It's kind of amazing that these guys could spend so many years near so many great writers and producers without any of it rubbing off on them. Longtime band handler Suzee Ikeda co-produced with Tall "T" Productions, and it's formula disco with no memorable melodies. The ballads are just strings of clichés ("Put Your Trust In Me, Baby" at least gets a good vocal performance; "Is There Anybody Else"). The dance track "I'm On Fire (Body Song)" is probably the strongest track, but that's no recommendation. Michael L. Smith wrote and produced the respectable dance track "There Is No Stopping (Til We Set The Whole World Rockin')" and the dreadful, slow "I'll Take You In." Many of the usual backing musicians are on hand here: Melvin "Wah Wah" Ragin, James Gadson, Eddie "Bongo" Brown. (DBW)
Ironically, this record was the first not to break the Top 40 going all the way back to their debut in 1964. The band left Motown afterwards and never really rose back to their earlier levels of commercial success.

Goin' Up in Smoke (Kendricks: 1976)

In My Stride (Ruffin: 1977)

Hear To Tempt You (1977)
The first record after the group left Motown, this was a commercial disaster, and deservedly so; the cutesy title is the best thing about the record. Producer Norman Harris doesn't have a new idea in his head, churning out all the then-current R&B and disco clichés with no memorable melodies; the album's only decent track is the ballad "She's All I've Got," produced and written by Ron Baker. And the lyrics are worse than the music: after years of complaining that Whitfield was giving them too many political lyrics and not enough love songs, the Tempts devote much of this disc to feel-good pseudo-political fluff like "Think For Yourself" and "Let's Live In Peace," which the group co-wrote. At this point Edwards was out of the group, replaced by Louis Price. Ron (Have Mercy) Kersey arranged a few of these tracks, but doesn't show the flair evident on his work with the Trammps; here he just piles on disco strings and bass vamps. An embarrassing disappointment best forgotten. (DBW)
The first of two albums on Atlantic records, it was a huge flop. The group put out five singles over three years with Atlantic and none of them even charted, a pathetic humiliation for a band of such importance. (JA)

Slick (Kendricks: 1977)

Bare Back (1978)
Produced by Brian Holland, and he's imitating the Ohio Players blatantly, from the album cover on down. But the funk's not nearly as fiery as the Players' (title track), and it comes off as a failed attempt to keep up with trends - ditto for the overproduced disco numbers ("Mystic Woman"). The Tempts are at their best here when they stick with their earlier smooth balladeering (the lovely "Ever Ready Love"); the uptempo "I Just Don't Know How To Let You Go" is also enjoyable but slight. Not surprisingly, this was a commercial catastrophe, failing to even chart as a pop record and falling short of the Top 40 on the R & B chart. (DBW)

Power (1980)
A return to Motown, and in honor of the occasion, Berry Gordy produced (with Angelo Bond). Price was out, Edwards was back in. The title track studiously imitates the early 70s Whitfield epics - with simmering strings, a rock-solid bass vamp and guitar work from Wah Wah Watson - and it works like a charm, cleverly using Melvin's bass vocals. "Struck By Lightning Twice" is a fine funk-rocker with a 70s pop sheen, the closing uptempo "I'm Coming Home" is charming if simpleminded, and the group showcases still-beautiful harmonies on ballads like "Can't You See Sweet Thing," which they wrote. Musicians include Motown stalwarts Earl Van Dyke, Sonny Burke and Nathan Watts, plus studio fixtures Paul Jackson Jr., David T. Walker, Freddie Washington and Gary Coleman. (DBW)
The group's return to Motown, this was produced by Berry Gordy himself. It sold moderately strongly but didn't break the Top 40, like all of the albums that followed except Reunion. (JA)

Give Love At Christmas (1980)
Motown never got tired of releasing Christmas albums. Produced half by Gil Askey and half by Harold Johnson, with some standards ("The Christmas Song"), Robinson's "Christmas Everyday" and two songs co-written by Gordy: the memorable "Give Love On Christmas Day" and the super-trite "Everything For Christmas." Mostly the approach is the same laid-back emoting as Christmas Card, so it's reasonably effective ("Love Comes At Christmas") - the one real embarrassment is the disco version of "Little Drummer Boy." On the other hand, with one familiar tune, familiar arrangement, and familiar performance ("Silent Night") after another... What is it that familiarity breeds, again? It's on the tip of my tongue... (DBW)

The Temptations (1981)
Thom Bell of Philly soul fame produced this one. (JA)

Love Keys (Kendricks: 1981)
A retro-soul record, which nobody wanted to hear in 1981, but it's a pretty good one: "Old Home Town" is a tender ballad, while "I'm In Need Of Love" and "I Don't Need Nobody Else" (with wah-wah guitars, yet) pack a wallop. Kendricks' singing is as high-pitched and lovely as ever, and the low-key arrangements give him plenty of space. The songwriting is mostly from no-names like Lou Courtney and Eric Robinson, and they aren't even trying to break new ground, but they do the job; Holland-Dozier Holland contribute a couple of tunes, both passable but unmemorable ("(Oh I) Need Your Lovin')," "You Can't Stop My Loving"). Produced by Randy Richards and Johnny Sandlin; though the sound sticks close to classic Motown, the only painful ripoff is Stuart Mitchell's "Bernadette," which lifts the entire middle out of H-D-H's identically-titled Four Tops hit. (DBW)

Reunion (1982)
Ruffin and Kendricks came back for this one, which featured the hit "Standing On The Top" written by Rick James (the Temptations had sung on James' signature song "Superfreak" the year before). It's standard James product, complete with the usual P-Funk ripoffs and the trademark snapping sound, and at almost ten minutes it gets awfully boring. Fortunately, most of the record is better: Kerry Gordy serves up two funky tunes ("Lock It In The Pocket," "Money's Hard To Get"), Smokey returns to write the pretty single "More On The Inside" as well as the routine "Backstage." Barrett Strong manages to sound quite current on his high-powered "You Better Beware," with Ruffin on lead vocals. (Most of the leads go to Edwards.) Then there's Ron Miller's "I've Never Been To Me," a different version of Charlene's insufferably cheesy concurrent hit - here the lyrics are far more down to earth, and the vocal arrangement effectively utilizes the Tempts' talents. The 1994 CD release includes two bonus tracks, neither of which should have made the album: Smokey's "Like A Diamond In The Sky" and Berry Gordy's "Don't Hold It In." I think it was a real missed opportunity that Kendricks doesn't get any leads, but otherwise fans won't have much to complain about. (DBW)
The reunion hoopla was enough to just push this into the Top 40, the only Temptations LP to do so after 1976's Wings Of Love. (JA)

Surface Thrills (1983)

Back To Basics (1983)
Whitfield came back to produce five tracks, but nothing happened chart-wise. (DBW)

Truly For You (1984)
After decades of trying, Otis Williams finally wrote a hit song: "Treat Her Like A Lady" went to #2 on the R&B chart, though it barely scratched the pop charts - a nice blend of smooth vocal harmony and whomping 80s percussion, with lead vocals by new singer Ali-Ollie Woodson. Earth Wind & Fire members Al McKay and Ralph Johnson produced, and brought along many of their old cohorts: Johnny Graham on guitar; Jerry Peters, Michael Boddicker and Robbie Buchanan on keyboards. "Memories" has the easy groove and jazz-derived chord changes of an EWF song, several songs have high-pitched lead vocals in pleasant (if obvious) imitation of Phil Bailey ("Just To Keep You In My Life"), and "I'll Keep My Light In My Window" (by Terri McFadden and Leonard Caston) is a soothing album-closer straight out of Maurice White's book. All this is not much fun if you're not an EWF fan, though, and nothing new if you are, so I wouldn't shell out too much for this one. (DBW)

Touch Me (1985)

Ruffin & Kendrick (Ruffin & Kendrick: 1986)
I don't really know why Kendricks dropped the "s" from his name, but he did. (DBW)

To Be Continued (1986)

Together Again (1987)
Woodson was kicked out, replaced by the third coming of Dennis Edwards.

Special (1989)
Players include Gerald Albright and Maceo Parker. (DBW)

Milestone (1991)

For Lovers Only (1995)
A collection of standards and show tunes ("Some Enchanted Evening," "Time After Time"), produced by Richard Perry, but rather than tired nightclub arrangements, everything is redone as Quiet Storm R&B, with swelling synths, slow grind tempos, and laid-back harmonies. The net result is to focus your attention on the lyrics, which are almost caressed by the lead vocalists, rather than the overfamiliar melodies, and by and large this is a good thing - there are only a couple of corny moments, including the ending "For Your Love/You Send Me" medley. In places the debt to the Isley Brothers is very obvious ("I've Grown Accustomed To Her Face"), and the commercialism of the whole project is rather in your face, but damn if the album doesn't do exactly what it sets out to do: bring classic songs up to date for listeners on the wrong side of thirty who want to feel like they're still hip. Mostly arranged by Isaias Gamboa; there are only a few guests but they're well used: Stevie Wonder adds harmonica to "Life Is But A Dream"; Modern Jazz Quartet leader Milt Jackson adds vibes to "Night And Day"; programmed drum tracks are livened up by workaholic percussionist Paulinho Da Costa. The disc doesn't list the group members, but Melvin Franklin's last recordings are here. (DBW)

Phoenix Rising (1998)
The album got good press and won a couple of awards, but really the group was being rewarded for longevity rather than creativity. Production is split between Gamboa and Narada Michael Walden, and both of them go with a very familiar 90s R&B sound, the slow drum machine/keyboard groove perfected by Jam & Lewis/LaFace and imitated by everyone else. The two versions of Walden's "Stay" exemplify the "hey we're current" approach: the first samples the "My Girl" bass line, while the second features a rap. One lead singer sounds like Ronald Isley (or maybe R. Kelly imitating Isley) and the other sounds like one of the Boys II Men, and while they're entertaining, it's depressing to hear the Temptations name put on music so far from their roots and desperately commercial. But the production might not stick in my craw if the tunes were better: instead, track after track is a forgettable string of romantic clichés ("If I Give You My Heart," "How Could He Hurt You," "That's What Friends Are For" - not the Warwick-Knight-John-Wonder hit). For all my bellyaching, this is smooth entertainment that doesn't aim high, but doesn't miss the target either. By now, Williams was the only original member, with the rest of the group including Harry McGilberry Jr., Barrington Scot Henderson, Terry Weeks and Ron Tyson. (DBW)

Ear Resistable (2000)
See, here's why you should avoid cutesy titles. "Ear-resistable" means that it can be resisted by one's ear. Why would I want to buy something that my ear can resist? (DBW)

Awesome (2001)
I can't imagine who would really care about this record: there's nothing lifting it above ordinary pop product, and the nostalgia vibe is blunted because Williams is the only singer who remembers the band's classic days. I guess it's for people who want to believe there's still some magic attached to the Temptations name, and those people won't care what I have to say anyway. Anyway, the Phoenix Rising lineup is still intact, and the smooth R&B production is a bit less mechanical: live organ and guitar crop up here and there, and the vocal harmonies are more prominent ("4 Days"). Again, though, there's no variety, the tunes are eminently ordinary ("Lady") and the lyrics are trivial and obvious ("Hurt So Bad," "So Easy," "My Baby"). Walden returned for the amusing title track and "Swept Away." Williams co-produced about half the tracks, the standout being the mildly funky "My Baby"; the rest were produced by a variety of folks I've never heard of - Stan Brown, Nat Adderley Jr., Mechalie Jamison, Rainfall Entertainment - but the sound is consistent regardless. (DBW)

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