Today in Music History (March 7, 1971): Eddie Kendricks’ swan song with The Temptations hits #1

March 7, 1971 – The Temptations hit #1 with “Just My Imagination”

It is impossible to talk about the development of soul music since the early 60s without repeatedly coming back to the Temptations.  In the 60s they redefined the soul group, from the impeccable look they brought to the stage, to their focus on group choreography, to, most importantly, the immediately identifiable 5-part group harmony they mastered.  Every major soul group since 1965 owes a huge debt to the Temptations, and most acknowledge it.

At its 60s commercial peak, the Detroit act boasted the formidable lineup of David Ruffin, Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and Melvin Franklin. Led by Ruffin's gruff, passionate baritone and Kendricks' soaring falsetto, the Tempts scored one classic hit after another, including "My Girl," "It's Growing," "Beauty's Only Skin Deep," "I Wish It Would Rain" and "I'm Losing You."  

March 7, 1971 – The Temptations hit #1 with “Just My Imagination”

It is impossible to talk about the development of soul music since the early 60s without repeatedly coming back to the Temptations.  In the 60s they redefined the soul group, from the impeccable look they brought to the stage, to their focus on group choreography, to, most importantly, the immediately identifiable 5-part group harmony they mastered.  Every major soul group since 1965 owes a huge debt to the Temptations, and most acknowledge it.

At its 60s commercial peak, the Detroit act boasted the formidable lineup of David Ruffin, Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and Melvin Franklin. Led by Ruffin's gruff, passionate baritone and Kendricks' soaring falsetto, the Tempts scored one classic hit after another, including "My Girl," "It's Growing," "Beauty's Only Skin Deep," "I Wish It Would Rain" and "I'm Losing You."  

But at the height of the Temptations' popularity, internal friction threatened to combust the group.  Growing egotism by Ruffin (including his desire for top billing) led to resentment by the rest of the group and ultimately to his firing by the Tempts in 1968. Producer Norman Whitfield then led the group, with replacement lead singer Dennis Ruffin, through a new phase and string of hits, replacing the traditionally smooth Tempts sound with a funkier, Sly Stone-influenced sound that fit Edwards' voice beautifully.  "Cloud 9," "Runaway Child" and "Can't Get Next To You" continued the group's dominance of the pop and soul charts. 

However, more changes were coming, with falsetto lead Eddie Kendricks deciding in 1971 that he would leave to establish a solo career. And on this day in 1971, what was effectively Kendricks’ swan song as a Temptation became one of the group’s biggest selling songs ever. “Just My Imagination,” written by Whitfield and Barrett Strong, was the anchor of the popular Sky’s the Limit album. A stunningly beautiful ballad, it highlighted Kendricks’ brilliant falsetto, and shot to #1, where it justifiably stayed for a month. Over the years, it would be considered one of the greatest soul ballads of all time.

Today, we remember this iconic song, and celebrate the day it became the most popular song in America.

By Chris Rizik

 
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