In 1959 Berry Gordy launched one of America’s most successful music enterprises –
The Motown Record Corporation. During the 1960’s The Sound of Young America achieved spectacular success. The company would break down the social and racial barriers on its way to becoming one of the most important independent record labels of the 1960s and one of the most important labels in the history of pop music.
Gordy assembled an impressive roster of talented artists, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Marvelettes and a vocal group who took their choreographed doo wop influenced harmonies to new heights. The Temptations were Motown’s equivalent of the Beatles.
Aligning themselves with the civil rights movement and the five piece outfit would turn the Motown sound on its head.
By 1968 they were radical, socially aware and politically charged, producing the first real salvo of psychedelic soul Cloud Nine. This highly influential five piece group formed in Detroit in the late fifties. In 1960 they released their first 45 ‘Come On’, a local hit but the follow up ‘Alright’ failed to make an impression. This ambitious group began looking elsewhere to further their career when they met Motown boss Berry Gordy.
The Temps tenor and the only remaining original surviving member Otis Williams was born in Texarkana Texas and moved to Detroit at the age of ten, he still tours to this day.
Becoming interested in music in his teenage years, he was inspired to carve out a career in music after seeing his first live performance at Detroit’s Fox Theatre, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
Their debut for Motown Records ‘Mother of Mine’ was released in May of 1961.
After a promising start and still struggling to find the right vehicle for stardom, the Temptations at last fulfilled their potential. Led by the magnificent falsetto of Eddie Kendricks, ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’ was written and produced by the Smokey Robinson and gave the group their first success at Motown since joining in 1961.
In Dec 1964 they released their most remembered song ‘My Girl’, written and produced by William Smokey Robinson. It went on to become one of the biggest selling singles in the labels history.
The Temptations were one of the hottest acts around and the hits just kept on coming, thanks to writer and producer Whitfield, ‘Beauty is Only Skin Deep’, ‘I Wish it Would’ and ‘I Could Never Love Another’. Whitfield was the writer, along with Barrett Strong of ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, another of those radical recordings.
1968 was the year of sex drugs and rock and roll along with rebellion and revolution, but for Motown everything changed with the group’s next release. Otis was in New York and heard ‘Dance to the Music’ by Sly and the Family Stone and was blown away. He took a copy back to Detroit and played it his producer who was less than impressed on first hearing. He none the less listened to this change in direction of American R&B and began work on something new.
Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong the radical recording ‘Cloud Nine’, sonically moved Motown along and away from its sugary coated conveyer pop and into psychedelic rock, inspired by Hendrix, The Beatles and the Sly and the Family Stone. Motown won a Grammy for the song which went on to sell over a million copies.
The Temptations created the second phase of the label and the dawning of Motown’s album era, eventually paving the way for ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye.
Rumour has it the boss Berry Gordy did not like the sound coming out of his studios on West Grand Boulevard but went with it after seeing the sales they were achieving. He was a businessman after all. Otis Williams still tours with a ‘new’ Temptations, he is now 72 and can still recall his formative years in Detroit like it was yesterday.
I sat down to talk about his career recently and you can hear the fruits of that conversation, Get Ready: The Story of the Temptations, this Sunday at 6pm on Absolute Radio 60’s. Listen here.