The Temptations

Papa Was a Rollin' Stone

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 0:00
No Image 1973
Various Artists
Motown
No Image 1980
Original Soundtrack
Backstreet / MCA 6:59
No Image 1980 Motown
All the Million-Sellers 1982 Motown 6:45
Songs That Inspired the Motown 25th 1983 Motown 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
No Image 1990
Various Artists
Motown
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 7:00
Billboard Top Rock 'n' Roll Hits: 1968-1972 1993
Various Artists
Rhino 6:55
Emperors of Soul 1994 Motown 6:57
Heart & Soul, Vol. 3: Heart Full of Soul 1994
Various Artists
Pro 6:53
The Story of Soul Music 1995
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 5:08
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
MCA 6:58
The Best of the Temptations [Wise Buy] 1996 Disky / Wise Buy 7:13
Motown's Greatest Hits 1997 Motown 6:59
The Ultimate Collection 1997 Motown 7:00
Dance Funk 1997
Various Artists
Chronicles / Polygram 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 Motown 6:54
The Evolution of Soul 2000
Various Artists
Collectables 6:53
Disco Fever, Vol. 1 [Dressed to Kill] 2000
Various Artists
Dressed To Kill 7:12
Respect: The Soundtrack to the Soul Generation 2000
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 6:53
Motown: The Classic Years 2000
Various Artists
Motown 7:00
Jammin' Gold 2000
Various Artists
Q Records / Atlantic 6:58
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 6:58
Motown Chartbusters, Vol. 8 2001
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 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 6:57
Soul Classics [MCA Special Products] 2001
Various Artists
Irma La Douce 0:00
Blues & Soul, Vol. 3: 1972-1973 2002
Various Artists
Connoisseur 6:59
My Girl: The Very Best of the Temptations 2002 Motown 6:59
Superbad!: The Soul of the City 2002
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 6:59
Get Ready 2002 Disky 7:13
Twogether Disco 2002
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:57
100% Motown '70s 2002
Various Artists
Universal Special Products 0:00
Classic Funk: The Universal Masters Collection 2003
Various Artists
IMS 0:00
Twogether Soul 2003
Various Artists
EMI Music Distribution 2:58
Psychedelic Soul 2003 Motown / Universal Distribution 12:04
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
Soul Explosion [Dynamic] 2004
Various Artists
Dynamic 7:09
'70s [Universal 2004] 2004
Various Artists
Universal / USM 5:08
Gold 2005 Motown 6:59
Motown Classics: Gold 2005
Various Artists
Motown 7:00
Psyche Out 2005 Eskimo Recordings 4:54
Motown Remixed 2005
Various Artists
Motown 8:49
Dancing in the Streets: Motowns Greatest Hits 2005
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 5:12
Motown Remixed [Australian] 2005
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Distribution 8:45
Four Brothers [Original Soundtrack] 2005
Original Soundtrack
Motown 6:59
Classic Soul: Motown Legends, Vol. 4-5/100% Motown 2005
Various Artists
Columbia River Entertainment Group 0:00
Tribute to Motown 2005
Various Artists
K-Tel Distribution 7:10
Legends 2006 Universal International 6:54
Choice: A Collection of Classics 2006 Azuli 8:20
No Image 2006
Various Artists
Brunswick
Number 1's: The Temptations 2007 Motown 6:58
Motown Remixed, Vol. 2 2007
Various Artists
Motown 5:06
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
Playlist Plus 2008 Motown 6:58
Motown Remixed & Unmixed 2008 Motown / Universal Distribution 8:49
Favorites 2008 Motown / Universal Music 6:57
The Definitive Collection 2008 Motown / Universal Distribution 6:59
Christmas & Hits Duos 2008 Motown 6:59
Motown 50 Fanthology 2008
Various Artists
Universal 6:52
Motown: The Complete #1s 2008
Various Artists
Motown 6:57
Motown 50 [International Version 2] 2008
Various Artists
Motown / Universal Distribution 6:50
Classic 2009 Motown / Universal Distribution 6:54
To Dad From Motown 2009
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 6:51
Motown 50 Fanthology 2009
Various Artists
Motown 6:54
Motortown Review 2009
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 6:55
Sweet Soul of the '70s: Just to Be Close to You 2009
Various Artists
Time / Life Music 6:59
Total Motown 2010
Various Artists
Spectrum Music 7:03
Icon 2010 Motown 6:58
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son 2011
Original Soundtrack
Rhino 6:52
R&B Music Icons 2012
Various Artists
Hip-O 6:58
The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 12B: 1972 2013
Various Artists
Universal 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 Music / Universal 5:07
Hitsville: The Making of Motown 2019
Various Artists
Motown 0:00
100 Hits
Various Artists
Universal 6:57
202 Motown Songs: The Complete #1's
Various Artists
Island / Def Jam / Universal Music 6:58
French Riviera Cafe, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Def Jam / Island / Network / Universal 6:47
No Image
Various Artists
Motown
No Image
Various Artists
Universal 6:59
No Image
Various Artists
Universal Music 7:00
Motown 50 [Universal Mexico 2]
Various Artists
Universal Music 6:51
Motown Greatest Hits [2019]
Various Artists
Universal
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
Silver Collection: The Temptations Universal 5:09
Sixties Collection, Vol. 2
Various Artists
Going For A Song 3:21
The 60's Collection
Various Artists
Going For A Song 3:21
No Image Strategic Marketing 6:59
The Motown Story
Various Artists
Universal 6:56
No Image
Original Soundtrack
Lakeshore Records
The Roots of Motown
Various Artists
Universal / Universal Music / Universal Music Canada 6:58