Follow TV Tropes


Music / The Temptations

Go To
The Classic 5 (from left to right): David Ruffin, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, Eddie Kendricks

I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day
When it's cold outside, I've got the month of May
Well I guess you'd say
What can make me feel this way?
My girl (my girl, my girl)
Talkin' 'bout my girl (My girl!)
— "My Girl", the Temptations' Signature Song.

The Temptations (often billed as "The Temptin' Temptations") are one of the most iconic R&B groups of all time, as well as Motown's premier male vocal group in the 1960s, known for their distinct harmonies, choreography, and flashy wardrobe.

The group was formed in 1960 as a merge of two vocal groups: The Primes (the male counterpart to the Primettes, later known as The Supremes), consisting of Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams; and The Elgins, consisting of Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Elbridge "Al" Bryant. Shortly thereafter, they were signed to Motown under the name "The Temptations".

Initially, they had several low charting singles before Al Bryant was fired for attacking Paul and replaced by David Ruffin....

And soon after, they had their Breakthrough Hit with "The Way You Do The Things You Do". They quickly had a string of hits written and produced by Smokey Robinson and then Norman Whitfield including "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", "Get Ready", "(I Know) I'm Losing You", and especially "My Girl". During this time, they distinguished themselves from other R&B acts through slick choreography and the use of their trademark four-headed microphone stand, which gave each member an individual microphone for better audio quality while also providing enough space to dance.

All things seemed well on the surface, but problems began brewing behind the scenes. Ruffin started vying for a bigger push (including changing the name to "David Ruffin and The Temptations") and was plagued by drug use and erratic behavior, culminating in his firing in 1968 to be replaced by Dennis Edwards. Kendricks was also in conflict with Otis and Franklin over the direction of the band, as well as contractual issues, which resulted him leaving in 1971, with Paul leaving soon after due to health issues, dying in 1973 in an apparent suicide.

In the years following, they went through various lineup changes, including a brief reunion with Kendricks and Ruffin in 1982, with varying degrees of success. They remained legends nonetheless, getting inducted onto the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, and receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, and were the subject of a miniseries in 1998 and a biographical Jukebox Musical, Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, in 2018.

Sadly though, many of the members have died, and by the mid-1990s, only Otis was still living from the classic lineup; he and Melvin Franklin's estate now own the group's name.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold; Current Members in italic):

  • Larry Braggs: tenor (2016-19)
  • Elbridge "Al" Bryant: tenor (1960-63; d. 1975)
  • Mario Corbino : tenor (2020-21)
  • George Curtis "G.C." Cameron: tenor (2003-07)
  • Ollie Cregett (Ali-Ollie Woodson): tenor (1984-87, 1989-97, 2002; d. 2010)
  • Ray Davis: bass (1994-85; d. 2005)
  • Dennis Edwards: tenor (1968-77, 1980-84, 1987-89; d. 2018)
  • David English (Melvin Franklin): bass (1960-95; his death)
  • Anthony "Tony" Grant: tenor (2021-present)
  • Willie Green: bass (2016-22)
  • Damon Harris: high tenor (1971-75; d. 2013)
  • Barrington "Bo" Henderson: tenor (1998-2003)
  • Walter "Joe" Herndon: bass (2003-15)
  • Jawan M. Jackson: bass (2022-present)
  • Eddie Kendrick (Eddie Kendricks): high tenor (1969-71, 1982; d. 1992)
  • Glenn Leonard: high tenor (1975-83)
  • Harry McGillberry: bass (1995-2003; d. 2006)
  • Otis Miles, Jr. (Otis Williams): tenor/baritone (1960-present)
  • Ricky Owens: high tenor (1971; d. 1996)
  • Theo Peoples: baritone/tenor (1992-98)
  • Louis Price: tenor (1977-80)
  • Davis "David" Ruffin: tenor (1964-68, 1982; d. 1991)
  • Richard Street: baritone (1971-92; d. 2013)
  • Ron Tyson: high tenor (1983-present)
  • Terry Weeks: baritone (1997-present)
  • Bruce Williamson: tenor (2007-15; d. 2020)
  • Paul Williams: baritone (1960-71; d. 1973)

My Tropes, Talkin' 'bout my tropes!:

  • Addled Addict:
    • David Ruffin was fired in part because of his cocaine addiction, which plagued his solo career and culminated in his death from an overdose in 1991.
    • In his last months as a member, Paul increasingly struggled to perform due to his illness (he suffered from Sickle Cell Disease) and alcoholism. To try and keep Paul in the group, Richard Street — who'd eventually take Paul's place — was hired to provide vocals off stage as Paul lip-synchednote . Unfortunately, Paul deteriorated too much and he was removed from the lineupnote .
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Their song "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" is the Trope Namer, with the lead singing about how much he's willing to humiliate himself for another chance with his girl.
  • Album Filler: As with most Motown releases early on, this was not unheard of.
  • The Alcoholic: Al Bryant, which lead to his firing and eventual death from cirrhosis, and later Paul. The other members tried desperately to keep Paul away from alcohol, but he'd always manage to get hold of a drink and they eventually had to dismiss him when they couldn't cope with his spiraling behavior anymore.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: In "Just My Imagination," the singer is pining for a woman who doesn't even know who he is.
  • Basso Profundo: Melvin is legendary for his resonant bass, which proved to be a key part of the group's sound, and is particularly highlight in his spotlight number, "Ol' Man River".
  • The Big Guy: The group used to be one of the tallest music acts around with each member standing over six feet. This was readily apparent whenever the group shared the stage with other acts and they towered over everyone else.
  • Big Eater: Eddie, hence his nickname "Cornbread".
  • The Constant: The group has a tumultuous history with numerous lineup changes over the years. Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin were the two constants from the founding up until 1994, when Franklin had to retire due to health issues. As of 2018, Williams is the only surviving original member. Richard Street, as the group's baritone from 1971 to 1993, also helped anchor the lineup through constant changes in the lead and tenor slots. Ron Tyson, who's been the group's tenor since 1983, has been providing another constant, especially as tenures shortened and turnover became higher in the nineties.
  • Cover Version: Several over the years, due to the occasional Album Filler that was the norm for early Motown records, as well as the standards and Christmas albums.
  • Christmas Songs: The Temptations' Christmas Card (1970), Give Love at Christmas (1980)
  • Demoted to Extra: Paul Williams was the original lead singer of the group as well as the original choreographer, but both of these roles were given to others. However, he still played a key role in both areas until his illness and eventual departure.
  • The Determinator:
    • Otis, who has attempted to keep the group and name afloat at all costs.
    • Melvin, who fought through physical problems — including rheumatoid arthritis that eventually became debilitating — to continue performing until he no longer could.
  • Epic Instrumental Opener: A common feature of the psychedelic soul period, which led to conflicts between the group and Norman Whitfield.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: The final straw that led to Al Bryant being kicked out was an incident where he smashed a bottle in Paul's face when they were arguing about going on for an encore.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners:
    • Eddie and Paul, who grew up together in Birmingham, and later, Eddie and David.
    • Otis and Melvin, who closely led the band together until the latter's death.
  • Last of His Kind: Since Melvin’s death, Otis is now the last surviving classic/original member, as well as the last living sixties/heyday era member since Dennis Edwards’.
  • New Sound Album:
    • The Temptations With a Whole Lotta Soul', their first with Norman Whitfield, represented a transition to a harder edge Soul sound as opposed to the doo wop flavored early records.
    • Cloud Nine, in addition to being their first with Dennis Edwards, ushered in the group's Psychedelic Soul period that lasted until the mid-1970s.
  • Old-School Chivalry: The subject of their latter day hit "Treat Her Like a Lady" with Ali-Ollie Woodson.
  • One-Steve Limit: Played straight with Damon Harris, whose real first name is Otis — he chose to change his name because the Tempts already had someone with that name, founding member Otis Williams. Subverted by the group's classic lineup having two Davids — Melvin Franklin, who was born David Melvin English but started going by his middle name and his stepfather's surname as a teenager, and David Ruffin, whose birth name is actually Davis Eli Ruffin.
  • Performance Anxiety: Eddie Kendricks was initially replaced by Vibrations’ lead singer Ricky Owens. But he was fired after two disastrous shows as he’d been crippled with stage fright.
  • Protest Song: "War", released in 1970 at the peak of backlash against The Vietnam War.
  • Revisiting the Roots: After two years of specializing in uptempo numbers influenced by Psychedelic Rock, they released "Just My Imagination" in 1971, an elegant ballad more in line with their older work, as a Win Back the Crowd gesture. It worked perfectly, becoming one of their biggest hits.
  • Revolving Door Band: They've had dozens of members throughout their career.
  • Signature Move: The "Temptations Walk", a strutting dance move they frequently break out for both slow and up-tempo numbers.
  • Silly Love Songs: Their specialty early on their career.
  • Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Two Motown specials pitted the Temptations against the Four Tops in a good-natured and tongue-in-cheek rivalry. The groups battled it out on stage in 1983 and 1985.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: David Ruffin hogged the limelight as his ego grew, even demanding that the group be renamed "David Ruffin and the Temptation, eventually leading to his dismissal from the group. He'd later start sneaking into performances and snatching the microphone away from Dennis Edwards, to the delight of audiences, and security had to be tightened to put a stop to it.
  • Step Up to the Microphone:
    • Despite being the only consistent member, Otis' role has largely been on harmony vocals. However, he has on very rare occasions taken lead, such as "Don't Send Me Away" on Whole Lotta Soul and "I Ain't Got Nothin" on All Directions.
    • Melvin would also occasionally take leads, most notably on standard “Ol Man River”.
    • After David Ruffin's departure, Paul Williams took over singing Classic 5-era ballads. This brought him back into the spotlight after having lost his position as lead singer to Ruffin. This tradition continued after Williams' departure, with the group's baritone handling classic ballads while the lead singer handles older, up-tempo numbers.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Richard Street first joined the Temptations as Paul Williams' soundalike, performing Paul's vocals offstage while Paul lip-synced and danced onstage. Once Paul had to quit once his health and alcohol issues became too much for the group to bear, Richard neatly stepped into Paul's role.
    • Ricky Owens, who was originally selected to replace Eddie Kendricks, was also a tall, handsome, skinny guy who could sing falsetto. Unfortunately, he didn’t last longer than two shows.
  • Vocal Evolution:
    • David Ruffin's voice was much rougher when he came back for Reunion due to his hard-partying lifestyle. On the same album, Eddie Kendrick couldn't sing his trademark high notes at full voice due to years of chain smoking.
    • Ron Tyson's voice has changed as he's aged and he now regularly sings in high tenor, rather than in falsetto, during live performances.