Three recent releases from the team at Real Gone Music feature the solo music of David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, two-fifths of the original Temptations line-up. The label has reissued Ruffin’s first four albums on two single CDs, two to each CD, and has premiered Kendricks’ post-Motown LP Love Keys, for Atlantic Records, on CD.
David Ruffin had departed The Temptations after the April 1968 release of the Wish It Would Rain album, with Dennis Edwards officially joining the group onstage in July and on record in November for the joint effort Diana Ross & The Supremes Join the Temptations. Wish It Would Rain is considered to be the Temps’ final album squarely in the “classic Motown” bag, as producer Norman Whitfield steered them in a “psychedelic soul” direction with their next group-only album, Cloud Nine. The Sound of Young America, however, was abundant on Ruffin’s 1969 solo debut My Whole World Ended.
Its cover depicts an introspective-looking Ruffin, and though the album’s lyrics are filled with woeful tales – perhaps none more so than the bleak “I’ve Lost Everything I’ve Ever Loved” – it’s hardly a depressing or downbeat listen. There’s nary a straight ballad on the set, with grief-stricken lyrics usually set to mid- or uptempo melodies. It’s anchored by the No. 9 Pop/No. 2 R&B title track from a host of writers including Johnny Bristol, Jimmy Roach, Pam Sawyer and its producer, Harvey Fuqua. “My Whole World Ended” is a stunning piece of utterly despairing pop set to an irresistibly dramatic melody, which Ruffin sings as if his whole life depended upon it. Far from ending, the song augured a new beginning for the Temptation.
The numerous producers whose work was tapped to create the album – Johnny Bristol, Harvey Fuqua, Henry Cosby, Ivy Jo Hunter and George Gordy – all put Ruffin’s powerful, versatile voice front and center. Ruffin had a husky rasp that lent itself to expressions of pain and passion, whether crooning tenderly or reaching for his falsetto register for a well-placed shriek of anguish (as he does frequently). None of the songs on My Whole World Ended would have seemed like a radical departure from his lead vocals with The Temptations although the female backing vocals on a number of the tracks lent quite a different quality. Ruffin even engages in a bit of church-inspired call-and-response with the chorus on “World of Darkness.” Another atypical track is Bristol and Marv Johnson’s “My Love is Growing Stronger” with its unusual (for Motown, anyway) waltz tempo. “Everlasting Love” is a Motown spin on the Buzz Cason/Mac Gayden song that was a hit for Robert Knight (in 1967), Love Affair (in 1968), Carl Carlton (in 1974) – just to name a few of the artists who have had chart success with the driving melody! “Flower Child” is early Motown psychedelia, with a funky, Whitfield-style rhythm and a dirty electric guitar.
Follow-up album Feelin’ Good (which doesn’t have a cover of the Anthony Newley/Leslie Bricusse song of that title) again was the work of numerous producers, among them the returning Johnny Bristol, George Gordy and Henry Cosby plus Leonard Caston, Clay McMurray, Al Kent, Terry Johnson, Nickolas Ashford and Valarie Simpson, and even Berry Gordy. It arrived later in 1969, just months after its predecessor, with a freshly-minted cover of Jackie DeShannon’s hit “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” one of the tracks here to subtly add a contemporary edge with sitar. Other tracks were actually recorded prior to sessions for Ruffin’s first album. Though there’s still plenty of Despair, Ruffin-Style, it’s a lighter listen than My Whole World Ended, too.
The boisterous and brassy “I Could Never Be President” (“…just as long as I’m lovin’ you!”) arrived at Motown from southern soul scribes “We Three,” a.k.a. Homer Banks, Bettye Crutcher and Raymond Jackson. Closer to home, Gladys Knight, her brother and Pip Merald Knight and Johnny Bristol penned “I Pray Everyday You Won’t Regret Leaving Me,” which sizzles thanks to Ruffin’s dynamic vocal on its shifting melody. He can’t top Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s recording of Ashford and Simpson’s “What You Gave Me” (which recalls “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in its melody and arrangement) but comes close on this sweet track. Another Motown great, Smokey Robinson, co-wrote “The Letter.”
Despite the variety of material, Ruffin simply wasn’t capable of turning in a less-than-authentic vocal performance. Berry Gordy oversaw the full-tilt gospel of “I’m So Glad I Fell for You” with the choir (credited as The Hal Davis Singers) and the requisite organ; on the other end of the spectrum is a straightforward cover of Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” (why wasn’t that selected as the album’s title?) with the familiar piano part of the Joe Cocker recording. Oddly, a couple of tracks sound more like The Four Tops than The Temptations: Clay McMurray’s urgent “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” and Norma Toney, Albert Hamilton and William Garrett’s “One More Hurt.”
After the jump: a look at David Ruffin/Me ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll are Here to Stay and Eddie Kendricks’ Love Keys!
Real Gone’s second two-fer collects Ruffin’s solo albums Nos. 3 and 4: 1973’s David Ruffin and 1974’s Me ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll are Here to Stay. Both eschewed the patchwork quality of their predecessors in favor of a (mainly) single-producer approach. Bobby Miller was best-known for his work with The Dells. He produced all of David Ruffin and solely wrote seven of its ten songs, in addition to co-writing an eighth with Ruffin. David Van De Pitte (What’s Going On) provided the arrangements. The material looked inward, with Ruffin proclaiming on various tracks that “I’m Just a Mortal Man,” a “Common Man” and a “Working Man.” The voice is a little more fragile here, likely ravaged by Ruffin’s ongoing battles with addiction. But he fares well on a set of solid if unremarkable material. The mid-tempo Motor City groove of “The Rovin’ Kind” didn’t challenge Ruffin but made for a pleasant album opener, replete with motorcycle sound effects and a rocking electric guitar to add a subtle contemporary touch. The requisite pathos is wrung out of “Common Man” and “I’m Just a Mortal Man” has a pleasant, light swing, and both tracks are lyrically from the standpoint of a more mature singer.
The album’s two covers are both strong choices. Ruffin returned to the Homer Banks/Raymond Jackson songbook with their ultimate adultery ballad “(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right” (co-written with Carl Hampton). Ruffin’s rough-hewn voice is a perfect match for the torrid slice of southern soul. Philadelphia’s Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff added another anthem to the cheating songbook with Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” but rather than that tune, Ruffin and Miller turned to the duo’s Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes catalogue for “I Miss You (Part 1).” Detroit does Philly proud here, in a leaner, meaner version of the song than the original. Eddie Kendricks even joins in on vocals. Miller adopts a tough, funky Norman Whitfield-esque groove for “Blood Donors Needed (Give All You Can)” and “Go on with Your Bad Self.”
With David Ruffin another commercial disappointment, however, perhaps it’s no surprise that Ruffin turned to Temps hitmaker Whitfield for Me ‘n’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Are Here to Stay. Rock and roll wasn’t quite the order of the day, however, with Whitfield brewing up a psychedelic soul stew with assistance of arranger Paul Riser, stepping in for Van De Pitte. This new direction was evident from the very first track, “I Saw You When You Met Her,” on which the producer conjures up a spacey two-minute soundscape to introduce the slow-burning, seven-minute ballad with Ruffin passionately yelping with grit and desperation in front of the dense backing of voices, horns and sound effects. His voice is likewise stretched to its limits on the boisterous, funky, and indeed rocking, title track penned by Whitfield.
Ruffin personalizes Whitfield and Barrett Strong’s Undisputed Truth hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes” with an introductory monologue and a languid but pointed reading that’s far-removed from the Truth’s; it’s one of the best tracks on either of the albums here. From the same writing team, Ruffin also reinvents The Temptations’ “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are),” offering a less aggressive vocal than Dennis Edwards did. The track is only marred by overdubbed audience noise and applause, which Whitfield also included on the album’s finale, a take on Rare Earth’s “I Just Want to Celebrate.” It’s one of Riser’s denser arrangements, too; the Motown vet does better with the swelling strings of “Take Me Clear from Here.”
Two tracks produced by Mark Davis interrupt the flow of Whitfield’s production (“No Matter Where” and “City Stars”) but if one wishes Motown had better sequenced them, they’re of comparable quality. Yet like David Ruffin, Rock ‘n’ Roll only got Ruffin to the thirties on the Billboard R&B Albums chart. The very next year, though, the single “Walk Away from Love” would provide him with a Top 10 Pop hit.
Real Gone’s releases are a real treat for those who didn’t pick up Hip-o Select’s limited edition volumes of The Great David Ruffin – The Motown Solo Albums. These four albums on two CDs comprise the contents of Hip-o’s Volume One; hopefully reissues of the albums contained in Volume Two will be forthcoming from Real Gone. Gene Sculatti provides fine new liner notes for both discs, and no new remastering credits have been added. In a nice touch, original Motown labels have been replicated on the CDs.
Oddly, former Temptation Eddie Kendricks seemed to be channeling The Four Tops on his 1981 Atlantic Records solo album Love Keys, with titles like “(Oh) I Need Your Lovin'” and “Bernadette.” The former was even written by two-thirds of the Holland-Dozier-Holland team that had written “Baby I Need Your Loving” and the original “Bernadette,” Brian and Eddie Holland. Kendricks’ voice was as smooth as Ruffin’s was gritty despite a smoking habit that added gravel to the silk as the years went on. Following a successful solo stint at Motown and a couple of albums for Arista, Kendricks signed to Atlantic where he recorded one album. As with so many of Berry Gordy’s other premier artists, however, it appeared that you could take the artist out of Motown, but you couldn’t take Motown out of the artist.
Love Keys teamed him with producers Randy Richards and the versatile Johnny Sandlin, who had worked with southern rockers and soul artists alike. Recording in Alabama, Richards and Sandlin enlisted the Muscle Shoals Horns and vocal group The Controllers for support on Love Keys, ensuring that the resulting album didn’t sound like anything Kendricks had recorded before.
Brian and Eddie Holland’s “(Oh I) Need Your Lovin'” updated the southern soul sound with gleaming, then-contemporary keyboards and a sinuous groove, introducing the horns that would play a prominent role on the entire LP. Stuart Mitchell’s “Bernadette” nods to the Holland brothers’ earlier “Bernadette” but is a much more laid-back affair than that thunderously dramatic song. (There’s also a lyrical reference to “I’ll Be Doggone,” a 1965 Marvin Gaye hit not by H-D-H, but by Smokey Robinson, Marv Tarplin and Warren Moore.) The Hollands’ “You Can’t Stop My Loving” has an upbeat disco flavor well-suited to Kendrick’s talents, but Eric Robinson and Victor Osborn’s “Hot” is even more frenetic and made for the dancefloor. On the flipside, Robinson and Osborn also provided Kendricks with the contemporary ballad “In Love We’re One.”
Lou Courtney, a sometimes-artist himself, contributed a couple of songs, the funky “I’m in Need of Love” and the bright, catchy “I Don’t Need Nobody Else” (“…but you and myself”); on the latter, Kendricks showed off his sweetest falsetto. Kendricks is equally heartfelt on “Old Home Town” from writer David Pomeranz (“Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again,” “The Old Songs”); Glen Campbell later recorded the ballad as the title track of his 1982 album. Rod Harrison and Ronn Matlock’s “Never Alone” and co-producer Randy Richards’ “Looking for Love” are strong ballads in a quiet storm vein with the horns lending a bit of an Earth Wind and Fire vibe on the former.
“(Oh I) Need Your Lovin'” and “I Don’t Need Nobody Else” were issued as singles, and “Lovin'” just barely missed the R&B Top 40. But Kendricks’ stay at Atlantic only lasted for this one album, which would prove to be his final major-label solo LP. Real Gone’s very welcome reissue of this lost chapter in the soul man’s history, produced in collaboration with SoulMusic Records, features a detailed new appreciation of the album from SoulMusic founder David Nathan. There are no new remastering credits, nor have any bonus tracks been appended. Like David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks’ solo albums for Motown were collected by Hip-o Select in two volumes and now fetch high prices secondhand. With any luck, these currently out-of-print albums might also follow suit for reissue by Real Gone.
You can order Real Gone’s releases from these legendary Motown artists at the links below!
David Ruffin, My Whole World Ended/Feelin’ Good (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
David Ruffin, David Ruffin/Me ‘N Rock ‘N Roll Are Here to Stay (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
Eddie Kendricks, Love Keys (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)