Meet the Temptations

The Temptations

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Meet the Temptations Review

by Bruce Eder

The Temptations' first LP, released three years into the group's history with Motown, is also a great record, even though it wasn't really an album so much as a collection of their early singles, hooked around their then new hit, "The Way You Do the Things You Do." Those expecting the classic Temptations sound should also be aware that David Ruffin is absent from all of the tracks except "The Way You Do the Things You Do," which was cut just after he joined, replacing Elbridge "Al" Bryant. The LP represents the evolution of the act and its sound, as well as a succession of producers -- Andre Williams and Mickey Stevenson on "Oh, Mother of Mine" and "Romance Without Finance," the group's earliest 45 pairing, issued on the short-lived Miracle label; Norman Whitfield, for one single; Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, and finally Robinson. The differences are fascinating -- "Oh, Mother of Mine," sung with Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks sharing the lead, has an exuberant doo wop-based sound mixed with a serious soulful quality that would eventually define the group. "Romance Without Finance" is a little less derivative, with a heavier, fuller band sound (especially the guitars), but both tracks are rooted in a fast dance beat, in keeping with the tastes of the times (early 1961), and neither had the hooks to make them distinctive in and of themselves. Several of the Gordy-produced numbers seem highly derivative of other, more familiar songs by other acts -- "Paradise" sounds like the Four Seasons covering Maurice Williams' "Stay," and "Isn't She Pretty" comes off like a rewrite (albeit a very pretty one, no joke intended) of the Isley Brothers' "Respectable." These and other Gordy-written and -produced numbers are attractive enough, but not special as songs or productions, despite some excellent singing. One group composition, "Check Yourself," produced by Gordy, is interesting for its abrupt tempo change, and features a beautifully expressive Paul Williams' lead vocal. But the Smokey Robinson cuts are where the group's sound blossoms, their harmonies suddenly soaring elegantly with Williams' voice cutting through the center while an understated but integral band sound provides the foundation. Coupled with his songwriting, those numbers and Robinson helped put the Temptations on the charts -- and well up on the charts -- after three years of failure.

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