Motown giants The Temptations celebrate an astonishing fifty years of pop music history with The Singles Collection. 79 songs span three CDs, bound into a handsome, 66 page hardbound book. The singles are presented in chronological order, reaching back to the rollicking “Oh, Mother of Mine” from the summer of 1961. Each song includes an entry containing production, songwriting and chart details, along with historical notes and remembrances from artists including founding Temptations member Otis Williams. The evolution of the Temptations from doo-wop to pop to psychedelic soul superstars is presented in fascinating detail.
Mind you, this isn’t a comprehensive set. Album-only tracks like the Temptations’ lovely version of songwriter/producer Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold On Me” are not included, but all 45 r.p.m. single sides including Robinson’s #1 pop gems with the group “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and “My Girl” have been expertly remastered with their respective B-sides. Lost classics such as the finger-popping “I Want a Love I Can See” are welcome additions, not typically heard on greatest hits collections.
As groundbreaking as the Motown machine was in its heyday, this collection also reveals a handful of dubious steps along the path. Released late in 1962, Berry Gordy’s “Paradise” was a naked attempt to rewrite the Four Seasons’ signature hit “Sherry.” Even after the Temptations had done their part to help establish the enviable Motown sound, 1964 saw the release of “I’ll Be in Trouble.” For this song, Robinson plagiarized himself with an inferior clone of “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”
The set’s second disc leads with the beefy trombones and classic soul of Robinson’s “Get Ready,” but documents a new phase with the rise of Norman Whitfield as the band’s principal producer. This era began with the dynamite soul performance of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” David Ruffin’s anguished vocal is abetted both by the remaining Temptations’ pitch-perfect croon and Motown’s mighty Funk Brothers house band at their most muscular. 1968’s “Cloud Nine” introduced Dennis Edwards as the group’s new lead vocalist on a song influenced by Sly and the Family Stone tracks like “Dance to the Music.”
The collection includes holiday trifles like “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” alongside foreign language versions of “My Girl” and collaborations with Diana Ross & the Supremes such as “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” The groundbreaking “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” was released a year after the decade spanned by The Singles Collection, but many of the progressive funk singles that pointed the way are included, such as “I Can’t Get Next to You” and “Ball of Confusion.”
1971’s final single with soaring tenor Eddie Kendricks, the sublime “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” concluded the Temptations’ second classic line-up (following Ruffin’s departure) on a high note with yet another #1 pop single. The lesser-known “I’m the Exception to the Rule,” believed to be from Kendricks’ final Temptations session, is also here. This set is a treasure trove for fans unfamiliar with the Temptations’ early work and the many quality singles that dotted the group’s trajectory from hit to hit.