Emperors of Soul
Released in 1994, Emperors of Soul is a five-CD anthology celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Temptations with 109 key tracks taken from their 40-plus album catalog. Along with the Four Tops and the Supremes, the Temps became one of Motown's most successful acts, scoring an astounding 35 Top 40 entries during their prime. However, unlike many of their contemporaries, the vocal quintet survived the transition from stylish pop and R&B on "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "My Girl," "Get Ready," "Ain't to Proud to Beg," and "I Wish It Would Rain" to the psychedelic soul of "Cloud Nine," "Psychedelic Shack," and "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)," as well as covering socially relevant issues on "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" and "Plastic Man." Of course, all of those favorites are included here, as are a handful of tunes that predate their association with Berry Gordy and Motown. The initial five-man incarnation came together as the Distants (whose "Come On" is the opening selection of the set in 1959) -- featuring Otis Williams, Eldridge Bryant, and the distinctive bass pipes of Melvin Franklin -- linked up with the Primes' Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams, first as the Elgins and ultimately the Temptations. Drawing from the copious songwriting of Smokey Robinson, Norman Whitfield, and the formidable trio of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland, they racked up a considerable cache of classic recordings. Unfortunately, the personal problems of tenor David Ruffin (who had replaced Bryant) created an insurmountable rift with his bandmates, and he was replaced by one-time Contours member Dennis Edwards. Kendricks and Paul Williams would both leave shortly thereafter, and any hopes for the original members to work together again was dashed when Williams committed suicide on August 17, 1973. With Damon Harris and Richard Street, the Temps were able to recapture their former glory with the chart-topper "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," but after Harris departed, the Temptations became completely disenfranchised from Motown by the mid-'70s. Despite a lack of hits in 1982, Ruffin returned to the fold, as did Kendricks, for the highly publicized but short-lived Reunion album and tour. While Emperors of Soul glosses over this latter era on discs four and five, only avid fans and dedicated enthusiasts will probably venture beyond the '70s fare. There are a few rarities scattered throughout, most notably early singles such as "Oh, Mother of Mine" b/w "Romance Without Finance" from 1961, "I'll Love You 'Til I Die" and "I Couldn't Cry if I Wanted To" circa 1962, and "(Talkin' 'Bout) Nobody But My Baby" the following year. In terms of unreleased material, there is "Witchcraft (For Your Love)" circa 1963, "I Got Heaven Right Here on Earth" from 1966, and from 1967 there is "Angel Doll" as well as a cover of "Ol' Man River." The accompanying 80-page book is a great read and replete with photos and a thorough Temptations discography.