For more than forty years, The Temptations have prospered, propelling popular music with a series of smash hits, and sold-out performances throughout the world.
“The crowds are bigger, the sales are sizzling,” says one industry report. “The outpouring of affection for this super-group has never been greater”.
The history of The Temptations is the history of contemporary American pop. An essential component of the original Motown machine, that amazing engine invented by Berry Gordy, The Temps began their musical life in Detroit in the early sixties. It wasn’t until 1964 however, that the Smokey Robinson written-and-produced “The Way You Do the things You Do” turned the guys into stars.
An avalanche of hits followed, many of which…”My Girl,” for instance…attained immortality. “It’s Growing,” “Since I Lost My Baby;,” “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “Beauty Is only Skin Deep,” “I Wish It Would Rain”…the hits kept coming.
Newest member, Bruce Williamson started singing in a church choir at the ripe age of 5 years old and hasn’t stop since. He has sung in everything from commercials to musical to the top showrooms in Las Vegas. Bruce was introduced to Otis by Ron Tyson.
“Our challenge,” says Williams, “is to live in the present while respecting the past. Our past is filled with riches only a fool would discard. At the same time, we thrive on competition. As a Motowner, I grew up in the most competitive musical atmosphere imaginable. But we also understand that for a group with history, no matter how glorious that history might be, reinvention is the name of the game.”
“When I tell people we are God’s group,” says Otis, a remarkable modest man, “I don’t mean it arrogantly. It’s just that we have been tested time and again and keep coming back. We have suffered the death of so many legendary singers…Paul Williams, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin. Other’s like Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, Ali-Ollie Woodson and Theo Peoples have left, and yet our unity is tighter, our sound brighter and our popularity greater. Someone has watched over this group. Someone has protected our integrity. Someone has said…just go on singing and it’ll get better.”
The Four Tops- The quartet, originally called the Four Aims, made their first single for Chess in 1956, and spent seven years on the road and in nightclubs, singing pop, blues, Broadway, but mostly jazz—four-part harmony jazz. When Motown’s Berry Gordy Jr. found out they had hustled a national “Tonight Show” appearance, he signed them without an audition to be the marquee act for the company’s Workshop Jazz label. That proved short-lived, and Stubbs’ powerhouse baritone lead and the exquisite harmonies of Fakir, Benson, and Payton started making one smash after another with the writing-producing trio Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Their first Motown hit, “Baby I Need Your Loving” in 1964, made them stars and their sixties track record on the label is indispensable to any retrospective of the decade. Their songs, soulful and bittersweet, were across-the-board successes. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” a no. 1 R&B and Pop smash in 1965, is one of Motown’s longest-running chart toppers; it was quickly followed by a longtime favorite, “It’s The Same Old Song” (no. 2 R&B/no. 5 pop). Their commercial peak was highlighted by a romantic trilogy: the no. 1 “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” (no. 2 R&B/no. 6 pop) and “Bernadette” (no. 3 R&B/no. 4 pop)—an extraordinary run of instant H-D-H classics. Other Tops hits from the decade included “Ask The Lonely,” “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over),” “Something About You,” “You Keep Running Away,” “7-Rooms Of Gloom” and their covers of “Walk Away Renee” and “If I Were A Carpenter.” The group was also extraordinarily popular in the U.K.
After H-D-H split from Motown, producer Frank Wilson supervised the R&B Top 10 hits “It’s All In The Game” and “Still Water (Love)” at the start of the seventies. The Tops also teamed with Motown’s top girl group, the Supremes, post-Diana Ross. Billing themselves The Magnificent Seven for a series of albums, they hit with a cover of “River Deep – Mountain High.”
When Motown left Detroit in 1972 to move to Los Angeles, the steadfast Tops decided to stay at home, and with another label. They kept up a string of hits with ABC-Dunhill for the next few years: “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got),” a Top 5 hit; the Top 10 “Keeper Of The Castle”; and the R&B Top 10’s “Are You Man Enough (from the movie Shaft In Africa),” “Sweet Understanding Love,” “One Chain Don’t Make No Prison” (later covered by Santana), “Midnight Flower” and the disco perennial “Catfish.”
In 1990, with 24 Top 40 pop hits to their credit, the Four Tops were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Though they would no longer have hits on record, the group continued to be a hit in concert, touring incessantly, a towering testament to the enduring legacy of the Motown Sound they helped shape and define. Following Payton’s death in 1997, the group briefly worked as a trio until Theo Peoples, a former Temptation, was recruited to restore the group to a quartet. When Stubbs subsequently grew ill, Peoples became the lead singer and former Motown artist-producer Ronnie McNeir was enlisted to fill Payton’s spot. In 2005, when Benson died, Payton’s son Roquel replaced him.
For Rolling Stone’s 2004 article “The Immortals – The Greatest Artists Of All Time,” Smokey Robinson remembered: “They were the best in my neighborhood in Detroit when I was growing up (and) the Four Tops will always be one of the biggest and the best groups ever. Their music is forever.”