(Written by Mickey Stevenson and Otis Williams)
The fifth single on the short-lived Miracle Records label (and by far the best to date), this record marks the Motown début of a group who would become synonymous with the company, racking up hits over a spell of almost thirty years.
Well, a version of the group, anyway. The Temptations as featured on this record are Paul Williams (baritone), Eddie Kendricks (tenor/falsetto), Elbridge Bryant (tenor), Otis Williams (tenor) and Melvin Franklin (bass). Between then and now (February 2010), there have been some 22 (that’s twenty-two) people who have been members of the Temptations, a number which can only grow as the group remains a going concern to this day. (Indeed, visitors to Motown Junkies may wish to check their inboxes to make sure it’s not their turn to be in The Temptations this week). As of the time of writing, Otis Williams, who co-wrote this début single, is the only surviving original member still in the group almost fifty years later.
I usually find it easier to consider the “golden age” Temptations as two separate acts: the early-to-mid Sixties version when the group were under the control of Smokey Robinson, and the late-Sixties/early-Seventies incarnation under Norman Whitfield. Oh Mother Of Mine, though, is one of the few artefacts from an even earlier period, when Paul Williams was the group leader and before David Ruffin came onto the scene, when the Temptations were just another young vocal group, carrying heavy doo-wop influences and hungry for success.
Although they would struggle to find commercial acceptance until Bryant was replaced with Ruffin a couple of years later, the Temptations nevertheless quickly became Motown’s premier male vocal group, joining the stable just as their predecessors in that role, the Satintones, drifted into obscurity. Initially, they were marketed and recorded as natural successors to the Satintones, and it’s easy to imagine much of the early material offered to the group being recorded by the Satintones in much the same style, none more so than this first effort.
The Temptations had coalesced from two different male vocal groups popular on the Detroit club circuit, the Distants and the Primes (the latter famous as the group who caused the Supremes (née Primettes) to form as a sort of sister act); they initially signed to Motown under the name “the Elgins”, after the watch company, only to find the name had already been taken. (Confusingly, Motown would later sign a totally different group called the Elgins, who had nothing to do with either of the first two groups.) The newly-renamed Temptations signed with Motown at the same time as the Supremes, but while the girls were given two singles on the high-profile Tamla label with Berry Gordy writing and producing, the boys had to wait several months before their first record appeared on the rather less high-profile Miracle imprint, and initially with very little interest from Mr Gordy.
That turned out not to be a bad thing. Mickey Stevenson, the hottest new writer in the Motown group, collaborated with Otis Williams to write this uptempo dancer, another indication of how willing Motown was in the early days to have its artists bring their own material to the table, while Stevenson and oddball Andre Williams handled production duties.
The result, while not earth-shattering, is an eminently likeable late-Fifties dancefloor record. The band lock into a tight, practised groove very quickly, with some energetic drumming and some especially good horns in the chorus; it’s good fun. The lead vocal alternates between Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks; the latter’s shrieking, untrained falsetto in the middle of the song is badly jarring, as well as being the most dated thing on show here, and threatens to sink the whole record, but Paul saves it by bringing proceedings back down to earth with his gravelly, bluesy baritone.
As was by now traditional with singles that came out on the Miracle Records label, the record sank without trace. Still, while it’s not outstanding, it’s certainly not bad. The lyrics are forgettable, generic stuff (and barely intelligible anyway), but the melody is fun and the band are really starting to excel themselves. If it’s not an obvious starting point for one of the great groups of all time, it’s an enjoyable (and danceable!) little record on its own merits.
Perhaps most crucially, it caught Berry Gordy’s attention, meaning that when the Temptations returned to Hitsville to cut their next single, Check Yourself, Gordy would be producing.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.
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“Who’s Lovin’ You”
“Romance Without Finance”