2020 Album Draft- Compilation- Round 12- Pick 6- Eclectic Music Lover selects- The Temptations- All The Million Sellers.
At first glance, this seemed like an easy round for which to choose an album, as I’ve got lots of ‘greatest hits’ compilations in my collection. As Dave touched on in his write-up of “The Essential Billy Joel”, there are lots of artists who had a few songs I loved, but didn’t want to necessarily buy any particular album of theirs. For those artists, a greatest hits compilation was the perfect choice for me, as I would then have all or most of their songs that I liked on one record. And it’s also funny that Dave specifically mentioned Motown in his critique of artists who frequently released albums containing one or two hits, with the rest consisting of throwaway filler tracks.
That said, my pick is “The Temptations: All the Million-Sellers”. The album, which I have on CD, was released in 1981 by Motown as one of their series of ‘Motown Compact Classics’. I chose this particular compilation over others in my collection because it contains only 10 songs, every single one of which I love and consider to be the very best by The Temptations. I also like that the tracks are arranged in chronological order, which I think is essential for all ‘greatest hits’ compilations. It gives us a better feel for how the artist or group’s music evolved over time.
1. My Girl
2. Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
3. I Wish it Would Rain
4. Cloud Nine
5. Runaway Child, Running Wild
6. I Can’t Get Next to You
7. Psychedelic Shack
8. Ball of Confusion
9. Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)
10. Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone
Quite honestly, many of the greatest hits albums I own still contain at least a few of what I feel are throwaway songs. With this compilation, there’s no need for me to skip over any tracks.
The Temptations are one of the longest-running music acts, active in one form or another since their origins in 1960! They were known for their elaborate and finely tuned choreography, distinctive vocal harmonies, and stylish suits, and like the Beatles were for rock, the Temptations were a major influence for many male R&B acts.
The group’s lineup has changed numerous times over the years, but their classic lineup during their early successful period of 1964-68 consisted of David Ruffin, Paul Williams, Otis Williams (no relation to Paul), Eddie Kendricks and Melvin Franklin. Gruff-voiced vocalist Ruffin sang the first three hits listed above, but was kicked out of the band in 1968 due to his increasing cocaine abuse and numerous disagreements with fellow band members. He was replaced by Dennis Edwards, another gruff-voiced vocalist who sang lead on “Cloud Nine”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball of Confusion” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”. Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams left in 1971, Kendricks to pursue a solo career and Williams for health reasons. Otis Williams is the last surviving founding member of the Temptations, and at 79 he continues to perform. He also owns the rights to the Temptations name.
I love their first big hit “My Girl”, but “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” is just so damn catchy!
One of my favorites of their songs is “I Can’t Get Next to You”, which was their second single to reach #1, in 1969. I especially love the opening where we first hear clapping and yelling, then Dennis Edwards says “Hey everybody, hold it hold it, listen”, followed by a jazzy little piano riff before the song ensues. I also like that all five members’ vocals are prominently featured.
One of their most beautiful songs is the 1971 hit “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me), which was their third single to hit #1. By the early 70s, many of the Temptations longtime fans were frustrated by all the psychedelic songs they’d been releasing, longing for songs more in the smoother R&B style of their early days. In a 1991 interview, Eddie Kendricks recalled that many of the Temptations’ fans were “screaming bloody murder” after the group delved into psychedelia, demanding a return to their original soul sound.
Songwriting duo Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong had written the lyrics to “Just My Imagination” in 1969, and finally decided to have the group record it in late 1970, with Kendricks singing lead vocals. According to Wikipedia, the song was recorded in the midst of a bitter feud between Kendricks and the Temptations’ de facto leader, Otis Williams. Dissatisfied and frustrated with Williams’ leadership, Kendricks began to withdraw from the group, and picked several fights with either Williams or fellow band member Melvin Franklin. This would be the last song Kendricks (and Paul Williams) would sing with the Temptations.
The group’s fourth and final #1 hit – and in both Hans’ and my opinion their best song ever – is the gorgeous masterpiece “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”. Somewhat of a return to the group’s psychedelic soul sound orchestrated by Whitfield and Strong, the song was both a musical and stylistic departure for the Temptations. Beginning with an extended instrumental introduction lasting nearly four minutes (a style pioneered by artists like Isaac Hayes, and used in later songs like Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby”), each of the song’s three verses is separated by extended musical passages, in which Whitfield inserted various instrumental textures in and out of the mix. It’s like a psychedelic R&B symphony, which is probably why I love it so much.
“My Girl”, “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)”, and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, are included among The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. ” Rolling Stone ranked the Temptations at number 68 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of all time.”