Do you remember: "My Girl," "Stop in the Name of Love," "The Way You Do the Things You Do," "Baby Love," "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," "Where Did Our Love Go?" In the '60s, the Temptations and the Supremes symbolized the exuberant flash of Motown soul. Today, the Supremes exist only in "Dreamgirls' " memories, but the Temptations are still the real thing, baby. And it's their 20th anniversary.
The original cast and successors are here to celebrate with one stupendous road show that stops at Constitution Hall tonight and tomorrow to entertain almost 20,000 folks.
However, early Friday morning it's a small television studio audience that's busy giving in to the Temptations.
At 10 a.m., seven slowly waking bodies are stretched across the set of Channel 9's "Morning Break" and hostess Carol Randolph is breathing more easily. Five minutes earlier, there had been no sign of the Temptations, who had not gotten back to their Washington hotel until 4:30 that morning after a pair of shows in Baltimore.
"Think how much they must love you to get out of bed ," says Randolph encouragingly, and the crowd breaks into supportive applause. They answer the usual questions: three singles, one married with children, two bachelor fathers with children and one in transition, and astrological sun signs (Capricorn, Gemini, Aquarius, Scorpio, two Libras and one mischievous "My sign is Yield").
And there's the expected, "What would you be if you weren't a Temptation?"--a question most of them haven't had to deal with: Otis "Dallas" Williams and Melvin "Blue" Franklin have always been Temps; David Ruffin (who was fired in 1968) and Eddie Kendricks (who quit in 1971) are often defined as ex-Temps despite moderately successful solo careers; and Dennis Edwards, Richard Street and Washingtonian Glenn Leonard are latter-day Temps. But the last six or seven years have been disappointing compared with the heyday of the '60s and early '70s.
The idea of a reunion actually originated two years ago, and got talked out long enough to coincide with the 20th anniversary. The hits had run strong for the original group: 29 gold singles, 10 gold albums, 40 charted hits altogether. Their current recording of Rick James' "Standing on the Top" is the Temps first top-five hit in 10 years.
Before the broadcast, Randolph confirmed the cultural impact a group like the Temptations had. Hearing specific songs "takes you back . . . I remember when I was doing certain things at certain times." Starting with "Meet the Temptations" (it came out at almost the same time as "Meet the Beatles"), the Temps captured the public eye with their clockwork choreography and the public ear with their brassy energy and weaving group harmonies.
The Temptations faded for a while but their fans remember. One person in the audience brought out an ancient black-and-white photo of the group at the old Howard Theatre (Randolph: "Fellas, you age well!"). Another remembered being a young and flat-broke sailor "14 years ago at the San Juan Hilton" and being allowed to sit on the edge of the stage.
The Temptations' playful responses are less tightly choreographed than their stage steps, and there's no stepping on toes; if any hard feelings about the Ruffin-Kendricks departures still exist, they're being kept very private.
The fellas still seem a little hesitant to talk about the Supremes, who were always considered the Temptations' sister group (originally they'd been known as the Primes and Primettes). Despite four albums together, there were suggestions that the Temps felt they were relegated to second-string status when the Supremes went TV slick. "It was always a pleasure working with Diana and the girls," says Otis Williams tactfully.
"Where can I join up?" booms a mighty bass voice and the question doesn't seem that farfetched. Glenn Leonard, a graduate of McKinley Tech, did join in 1975, two years after being second choice to Damon Harris. A hometown fan asks if it's true he "always wanted to be a Temptation?" "In the bathroom," Leonard replies. "You get that good echo."
Someone asks for an impromptu performance ("Would you favor us with a song?"), but the Temps have left their voices resting in the hotel beds they're waiting to rush back to. Since it is Leonard's birthday, they deliver a quick, disharmonious chorus of "Happy Birthday." When Ruffin starts talking about exercise and meditation, the others stare a bit incredulously and his road manager howls with laughter backstage; there is less to the story than Ruffin is telling, apparently. He does come up with one gem responding to, "What advice would you give to any young person starting out in the music business?"
"Get a good lawyer."