The Temptations

Papa Was a Rollin' Stone

Composed by Barrett Strong / Norman Whitfield

Song Review by

Possibly the greatest Temptations record of all time, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" combined so many musical elements so well that it could be described as the group's own "Good Vibrations." A brilliant, dark bass and drum pattern sets the menacing tone to the rhythm, and is spiced elegantly by a jazzy trumpet, giving the song a slightly free-form air. On top of this, some steely orchestration adds yet another layer of darkness, making this one of the "blackest" Top Ten records of its time. But it's the lyrics and vocal performance that it is best remembered by. All of the group members describe the main character, to the point that they all sound like the nefarious father's children. The end effect encapsulates the urban tension at the dawn of the 1970s like no other, save for Curtis Mayfield. It's ironic, given all of this, that the Temptations didn't really want to cut the track, and this "attitude" is one of the things that make the record powerful and lasting.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
All Directions 1972 Culture Factory 11:44
Anthology [1973] 1973 Motown
No Image 1973
Various Artists
Motown
No Image 1980 Motown
All the Million-Sellers 1982 Motown / Uni 6:56
Songs That Inspired the Motown 25th 1983 Motown / Uni 6:54
No Image 1989
Various Artists
Rhino
Papa Was a Rolling Stone 1989 Dynamic 7:12
Compact Command Performances: 17 Greatest Hits 1990 Motown 6:53
Psychedelic Shack/All Directions 1990 Motown / Universal International 11:46
Live in Concert 1991 Kultur Video
Sounds of the Seventies: 1972 - Take Two 1991
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 6:57
Hitsville USA, Vol. 2: The Motown Singles Collection 1972-1992 1993
Various Artists
Motown 6:58
Billboard Top Rock 'n' Roll Hits: 1968-1972 1993
Various Artists
Rhino 6:55
Emperors of Soul 1994 Island/Def Jam / Motown / Universal Music 6:57
Heart & Soul, Vol. 3: Heart Full of Soul 1994
Various Artists
Pro 6:53
Motown: The Hits Collection, Vol. 1 1994
Various Artists
Motown 5:10
No Image 1994
Various Artists
Magnum
The Story of Soul Music 1995
Various Artists
Spectrum Music
Anthology 1995 Motown 6:57
Blues & Soul 1995
Various Artists
Griffin 7:09
Ultimate Driving Collection: Motor City Motoring 1995
Various Artists
Arsenal 11:47
Motown Year by Year: The Sound of Young America, 1987 1995
Various Artists
Motown 3:43
Soul Train 25th Anniversary Hall of Fame Box Set 1995
Various Artists
Interscope / MCA 6:55
No. 1 Classic Soul Album 1995
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 6:55
The Best of the Temptations [Wise Buy] 1996 Disky / Wise Buy 7:13
Motown's Greatest Hits 1997 Polydor / Universal / Universal Music 6:55
The Ultimate Collection 1997 Motown / Polydor / Universal / Universal Music Indonesia 6:57
Dance Funk 1997
Various Artists
Digital 6:41
Blaxploitation, Vol. 2: The Sequel 1997
Various Artists
Global TV 11:47
Motown 40 Forever 1998
Various Artists
Motown 6:58
Soul Classics: Best of the 70's 1998
Various Artists
Rebound Records 6:59
VH1 8-Track Flashback: Classic 70's Soul 1998
Various Artists
Rhino 6:59
I Love Jamaica: Reggae Gold, Vol. 2 1999
Various Artists
Drive (import) 3:57
Class Reunion: The Greatest Hits of 1972 1999
Various Artists
Polymedia 6:58
Cruizin' to Motown, Vol. 2 1999
Various Artists
Thump Records 6:58
Motown Chartbusters, Vols. 7-12 [Box Set] 1999
Various Artists
Polygram 5:10
20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection:  Best of the Temptations, Vol. 2 - The '70s, '80s, '90s 2000 Motown / Uptown/Universal 6:59
Classic: The Universal Masters Collection 2000 Polydor / Universal 6:54
The Evolution of Soul 2000
Various Artists
Collectables 6:53
The 70's [Original TV Soundtrack] 2000
Original TV Soundtrack
Island / Polygram 6:59
Respect: The Soundtrack to the Soul Generation 2000
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Motown: The Classic Years 2000
Various Artists
Motown 7:00
Jammin' Gold 2000
Various Artists
Q Records / Atlantic 6:58
Black Box [BMG International] 2000
Various Artists
BMG International 7:11
Psychedelic Soul [UK] 2000 Spectrum Music 6:55
Back to Black: 1900-1999 2001
Various Artists
Universal International 6:51
Mega Groove 2001
Various Artists
Wagram Records 2:57
Original Lead Singers of the Temptations 2001 Eagle Records 7:12
Funked!, Vol. 1: 1970-1973 2001
Various Artists
Universal Distribution / Debutante / Universal Ltd. 6:57
Motown Chartbusters, Vol. 8 2001
Various Artists
Polygram 5:10
Can You Dig It? The '70s Soul Experience 2001
Various Artists
Rhino 6:58
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: Motown 1970s, Vol. 1 2001
Various Artists
Motown 6:59
The Best of the Temptations: New Recordings of Their Greatest Hits 2001 K-Tel Distribution 7:08
Blues & Soul, Vol. 3: 1972-1973 2002
Various Artists
Connoisseur 6:59
My Girl: The Very Best of the Temptations 2002 Universal / Universal Music / UTV Motown 6:59
Superbad!: The Soul of the City 2002
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 6:59
Get Ready 2002 Planet 7:13
Twogether Disco 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:57
100% Motown '70s 2002
Various Artists
Motown / Universal 6:57
No Image 2002
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 5:08
Absolument 70: International 2003
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 6:51
Classic Funk: The Universal Masters Collection 2003
Various Artists
Digital / Ooo Universal 6:57
Twogether Soul 2003
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:58
Psychedelic Soul 2003 Motown / Universal Music 12:02
All Your Rhythm & Blues Favorites [16 Tracks] 2003
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 6:35
Respect: The Soul Generation Soundtrack 2003
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 6:51
Motown Greatest Hits 2003
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 6:52
70s Groove 2003
Various Artists
Ministry of Sound 5:08
No Image 2004
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution
In Japan! 2004 Hip-O Select / Motown 7:24
Capital Gold Soul Classics 2004
Various Artists
Universal Music TV
Soul Explosion Album 2004
Various Artists
Dynamic 7:09
The Collection 2004 Universal Distribution 6:52
Gold 2005 Motown / Universal Strategic Marketing 6:57
Old School Soul Party 2005
Various Artists
Shout! Factory/TJL 6:57
Motown Unmixed 2005
Various Artists
Motown 7:02
Dancing in the Streets: Motowns Greatest Hits 2005
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 5:12
Let's Go Disco [Disky] 2005
Various Artists
Disky
No Image 2005
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
Motown Remixed [Australian] 2005
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Distribution 8:45
Four Brothers [Original Soundtrack] 2005
Original Soundtrack
Island/Def Jam / Motown / Universal Music 7:00
Classic Soul: Motown Legends, Vol. 4-5/100% Motown 2005
Various Artists
Madacy 6:58
Tribute to Motown 2005
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 7:10
Legends 2006 Universal International 6:54
The Best of Blaxploitation 2006
Various Artists
Metro 5:10
#1 Hits of the 70s [Madacy] 2006
Various Artists
Madacy 6:56
Get Ready: Definitive Performances 1965-1972 2006 Motown
Body + Soul: Blue Lights in the Basement 2006
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 6:58
No Image 2006
Various Artists
Universal 6:51
#1 Rock and Roll Hits 2006
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 6:56
No Image 2006
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 5:09
Colour Collection 2007 Universal Music 6:53
Number 1's: The Temptations 2007 Motown 6:59
Motown Remixed, Vol. 2 2007
Various Artists
Motown 5:06
One Night in London [DVD] 2007 Immortal
Prime 17: The Greatest Funk Songs of All Time 2007
Various Artists
Direct Source 6:58
One Night in London 2007 Remember Records 2:53
No Image 2007
Various Artists
Brunswick / Universal
Dick Clark's American Bandstand 50th Anniversary 2007
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 6:57
Music for Groovin' 2007
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 5:08
Ultimate Grammy Collection: Classic Pop and Classic R&B [Borders Exclusive] 2007
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 6:58
Ultimate Grammy Collection: Classic R&B 2008
Various Artists
Shout! Factory 6:58
Classic Soul Hits 2008 Universal Distribution 7:00
The 70s Collection 2008
Various Artists
Brunswick 6:58
Dad's Jukebox 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution / Universal Ireland 5:09
Lifestyle2: Soul Grooves, Vol. 2 2008
Various Artists
Universal International 8:48
The Complete Collection 2008 Motown / Universal Music 6:57
The Ultimate Collection 100 Hits: Seventies 2008
Various Artists
Union Square Music 5:09
Favorites 2008 Motown / Universal Music 6:57
Playlist Your Way 2008 Motown 6:59
The Definitive Collection 2008 Motown 6:59
Driving Songs: The Ultimate Collection 2008
Various Artists
Ultimate / Ultimate Entertainment 5:08
Christmas & Hits Duos 2008 Motown 6:59
Motown 50 Fanthology 2008
Various Artists
Motown / Strategic Marketing 6:55
Motown: The Complete No. 1's 2008
Various Artists
Motown / Island/Def Jam / Universal Music 6:58
No Image 2008
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 6:57
Classic 2009 Motown / Universal Distribution 6:54
Rock & Roll '70s 2009
Various Artists
Madacy Distribution / Madacy 6:56
To Dad From Motown 2009
Various Artists
Universal Distribution / Universal Music 6:51
Icons: The Temptations 2009 Universal Distribution 6:57
Motown 50 Fanthology 2009
Various Artists
Motown 6:54
Motortown Review 2009
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 6:55
The  Complete Soul Collection 2009
Various Artists
Horizon 3:20
Total Motown 2010
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 7:03
Icon 2 2010 Motown 6:58
Sweet Soul of the '70s [Time Life] 2011
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 6:59
Collection RTL Georges Lang 2011
Various Artists
Rhino 6:52
R&B Music Icons 2012
Various Artists
Hip-O 6:58
Motown Anthems 2012
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 6:50
The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 12B: 1972 2013
Various Artists
Mosaic Select / Motown 6:57
Motown the Musical: 100 Originals 2013
Various Artists
Cobalt Helladisc / Universal Music 7:01
The  Ultimate Collection: Driving Songs 2014
Various Artists
Union Square / Universal 5:07
From Motown With Love 2015
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 6:58
100 Hits
Various Artists
Universal 6:57
202 Motown Songs: The Complete #1's
Various Artists
Island/Def Jam / Universal Music 6:58
Best 1200 70's
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
No Image
Various Artists
Motown
High Society: We Got the Soul
Various Artists
Universal
Introduction to the Motown Elite 9000 Series
Various Artists
Motown 6:56
No Image
Various Artists
Universal 6:59
No Image
Various Artists
Universal Classics & Jazz 7:00
Motown Collection, Vol. 4
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 6:55
No Image
Various Artists
PolyGram
Pure Chillout [Universal]
Various Artists
Universal Music 8:49
Road Trip: 60 Essential Driving Songs
Various Artists
Union Square Music 5:08
Sixties Collection, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Going For A Song 3:21
No Image Strategic Marketing 6:59
The  Nation's Favourite Motown Songs
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 6:59
The 60's Collection
Various Artists
Going For A Song 3:21
The Motown Story
Various Artists
Universal 6:56
The Ultimate Collection: 70s Schooldays
Various Artists
Ultimate Collection 5:07
No Image
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 7:00
No Image
Various Artists
Time/Life Music
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