Sad as it sounds, my love for The Temptations is (at least partially) based upon a £1 DVD from the shop formerly known as Woolworths. Bought by my Mother, I played this DVD nearly everyday for two years totally in awe of The Temptations doing their thing on stage – leading my Dad to take me to the Royal Albert Hall in November 2007 to see The Temptations and The Four Tops perform live. Since then, I’ve seen both groups three more times, spoken with Otis Williams – the last original member of the Tempts – and collected every record they have made since 1972.
On this DVD – ‘Live at Harrah’s Casino’ in Atlantic City – the Tempts consisted of original members Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin, lead singer the great Dennis Edwards, long-time friend and collaborator Richard Street, and then new-boy Ron Tyson. Despite the changes in line-up of The Temptations, Otis and Melvin (and now just Otis) have recruited some great singers, and for me this line-up is top notch. Towards the end of the show the group sing their latest recording at the time ‘Love On My Mind Tonight’ – a song of their poorly received album ‘Surface Thrills’, the last album former tenor singer Glenn Leonard would feature on.
Indeed, ‘Surface Thrills’ is a marked departure from the traditional soul The Temptations were making. Teamed with producer Dennis Lambert, the group used rock synths as well as slap bass to create an interesting album that many critics rank as one of The Temptations worse. Certainly, it is an odd album. Nonetheless, there are moments of wonder – particularly on ‘Love On My Mind Tonight’. The ballad is actually sung better live on stage as the DVD shows, but the original is still something to admire. Dennis Edwards assumes the lead vocal in only a manner he can: his fierce, growling voice, backed by some incredible harmonies, suits this ballad well, creating for me one of The Temptations most under-rated songs.
The rest of the album is so-so, even if The Temptations sound incredible together. Indeed, during this period The Tempts, regardless of the poor material and production, are vocally incredible. Much is made of the ‘classic’ line-up of The Temptations with Otis, Melvin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin – and rightly so – but to ignore the music made after the departure of Paul, Eddie and David is foolish. The Temptations have always been bigger than just one member, regardless of who that member may be.
‘Love On My Mind Tonight’ stands as a testament to the legacy of arguably Motown’s finest male-group, and as a testament to their durability throughout their rough and difficult history. For me, despite the albums flaws, it will always have a special significance: it was the first vinyl record I bought (for the sum of two whole pounds, nonetheless), and was the album that hooked me to the sounds of The Temptin’ Temptations.