The Temptations were a vocal group like few others in that there was no true "lead" singer. Classic members Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams and Otis Williams all had their turns in the spotlight - particularly Ruffin's impassioned vocals on "My Girl," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and "I Wish It Would Rain" - and latter-day members like Dennis Edwards shone on later singles like "Ball of Confusion" and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone."
But it might be Kendricks whose vocals shine the brightest with audiences today. His distinctive high falsetto is a powerhouse on record, and it makes for some exciting theatrics in performances of the hit Broadway musical Ain't Too Proud, based on the Motown legends' lives and careers. (Actor Jelani Remy, who played Kendricks in the show before Broadway's pandemic-spurred shutdown, has shone in recent TV performances, like this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.)
In honor of Kendricks' incredible life and legacy that extends well beyond his passing in 1992, here's a sample of some of our favorite melodies he contributed to The Temptations' discography.
"Dream Come True" (1962)
This stately shuffle of a tune is a milestone in Temptations history: it was their first to be released on Motown's Gordy Records imprint, and the first to reach a national chart, ranking at No. 22 on Billboard's R&B survey.
"The Way You Do the Things You Do" (1964)
The group's difficulty in scoring a hit single ended when one of Motown's biggest hitmakers - The Miracles' lead singer and star songwriter Smokey Robinson - started opening his songbook for other acts on the label. This bright number - reportedly inspired by joking compliments between Smokey and fellow Miracle Bobby Rogers on tour - was indeed so bright, it could've been a candle. And it finally established The Temptations as a group to watch, just missing the pop Top 10 but topping the soul chart.
"Get Ready" (1966)
Smokey's songwriting finally put The Tempts on top when "My Girl" became a No. 1 hit in the spring of 1965. But label founder Berry Gordy, ever the chart-watcher, wanted the group to have hits with the same consistency as acts like The Supremes or the Four Tops, and wasn't above pitting writers against each other. Gordy promised up-and-comer Norman Whitfield could try his hand at writing and producing for the group if "Get Ready" didn't cross over sufficiently - and amazingly, that's exactly what happened. Despite a killer lead by Kendricks and a sweeping orchestral hook, "Get Ready" only reached No. 29 on the Hot 100 - and Whitfield's first single with the group, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," went gold. ("Get Ready" got its due in 1970, when Motown rock group Rare Earth took it to the Top 5.)
"I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" (with Diana Ross & The Supremes) (1968)
Norman Whitfield helped expand The Temptations' sound with hits like "I Wish It Would Rain" and "Cloud Nine," the latter considered to be one of the first examples of the "psychedelic soul" genre. But 1968's collaborative album with Diana Ross & The Supremes, Motown's other bestselling group, harkened back to their more classic soul style. "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me," a terrific ballad co-penned by future Philly soul masters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, became a powerhouse vocal for Ross and Kendricks, and the track soared to No. 2 on the charts, their highest placement since "My Girl."
"Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" (1971)
While the psychedelic soul style of Norman Whitfield and co-writer Barrett Strong was elevating The Temptations to a new commercial plane, Kendricks chafed under the group's direction. He decided to leave the group in 1971, after recording one last soulful single with Whitfield and Strong: the contemplative "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)." Kendricks often claimed that fans were clamoring to hear some of the old magic, and he may have had a point: the song became their second No. 1 hit as well as a swan song for both Kendricks and original member Paul Williams, who retired for health reasons and died two years later.
BONUS TRACK: "Keep On Truckin'" (1973)
Kendricks stayed with Motown as a solo artist but failed to ignite the charts. That all changed when he switched up his style, trading in ballads for dance music, something he wasn't used to. The funky "Keep On Truckin'" was a powerhouse track that topped the Billboard Hot 100, and follow-up "Boogie Down" soon took to No. 2 on the pop charts.