David Ruffin was one of The Temptations’ most recognizable voices – think “I know you want to leave me / But I refuse to let you go,” from “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg" – and his departure from the group in 1968 was keenly felt. He made solo records after he left, but with a handful of exceptions, none of them were hits, certainly not to the level of the Tempts’ many Motown smashes.
That’s not to say, however, that Ruffin’s solo output was not good; indeed, much of the music he made on his own was of a very high quality. Even when mired in the muck of personal problems and record company indifference, he was able to use his voice as he always had, elevate the material he was provided by producers, and make music that rose to the quality of the very best of his contemporaries. Here are some examples:
"My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)": Ruffin’s solo career got off to a fantastic start – Motown supported him with great material, great players and great production. This, the title track of his first solo album, isn’t heard very much anymore, and you have to wonder why – it’s a terribly good song, and Ruffin’s performance lifts the material even higher.
"Walk Away from Love": This 1975 track has every ‘70s soul accoutrement – the strings, the background singers, the horns and percussion. Having Ruffin in front, leading the whole thing, is pure perfection, from his gruff growl to expressive falsetto. It was also his final Top 10 hit.
"I'm So Glad I Fell for You": The gospel piano that starts this song (from Ruffin’s 1969 record Feelin’ Good) lets you know immediately that Ruffin’s taking us to church. And even though his sentiments are a bit more carnal, that voice makes you feel the spirit moving through you.
“On and Off”: On several of his solo albums, Ruffin sang songs that the Temptations had already recorded without him, usually a year or two after their albums had been released. This one (from 1976’s Van McCoy-produced Everything’s Coming Up Love), however, sounds like a laid-back Temptations song, but Ruffin was the first to get a crack at it.
“Slow Dance”: On his final solo album, 1980’s Gentleman Ruffin, Ruffin attempts to slip into the disco loverman persona that Barry White and Isaac Hayes had cornered for much of the ‘70s. “Slow Dance” is one of the results – a convincing foray that, while quality stuff, was, sadly, never followed up on.