(Written by Berry Gordy)
The Temptations in 1963 were best described as “directionless”. Their previous single, I Want A Love I Can See, written and produced by Smokey Robinson, had been the first tentative flowering of the R&B/pop direction that would lead the Tempts to conquer America – but it had bombed.
In a typical Motown knee-jerk reaction, Smokey was taken off the Temptations project, and the group was instead shoved back down the unique but increasingly poorly-selling “futuristic doo-wop” road they’d been on before Smokey got involved. Company boss Berry Gordy took up the reins personally, rushing this through from recording to release in less than a month.
It’s better than you might expect, dead end though it clearly is. There’s much to admire here; Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, unusually both used as leads, are both noticeably improving as singers, and Smokey’s ideas about how the rest of the group’s voices should be arranged have clearly been taken into account. The tune is pretty, too, even if it borrows heavily from Smokey’s Slow Down Heart, a previous Tempts B-side – well, if you’re going to borrow, borrow from something good. There’s a spoken-word interlude which tries to keep the listener’s attention, and at several points the tune threatens to break into something more interesting.
Still, Farewell My Love isn’t really a record I find myself going back to listen to all that often. A kind of intermission, a diversion from the Tempts’ path to fame and fortune, it’s a pleasant enough doo-wop pastiche, but it’s all just… okay, I guess is the word I’m looking for. The tune goes nowhere, lyrically I’d be hard pressed to quote any of it back to you right now apart from the title, and along with the pleasing stuff there’s also a lot of badly dated elements, not least the hugely cheesy ending, featuring a burst of buttery Forties harmonies followed by a third-rate Fifties doo-wop finish.
Really, more than anything else, it just goes to show how little Motown knew about what they had in their grasp with these guys. The single failed to chart, the American public reacting with complete indifference. This must have hurt Berry Gordy more than he let on; the boss wasn’t doing a lot of songwriting or producing these days, and he hadn’t had a significant hit for a while, so a total failure like this wasn’t really what the doctor ordered.
This could have been dangerous for the Temptations – supposedly, Motown was considering dropping the group after a lengthy and dispiriting (not to mention expensive!) run of non-charting singles. In that respect, paradoxically, it probably worked out for the best that this record didn’t chart; if it had been a minor success, Gordy might have taken more of an active interest and kept them firmly on the doo-wop path. Instead, he became disinterested and turned them loose, allowing Smokey Robinson to take up the challenge again and finish the job he’d started, with spectacular results.
This was also the last time Elbridge (Al) Bryant sang on a Temptations single; admired for his technical skill as a vocalist, he’d nonetheless exhausted the group’s patience with his antics, the final straw a full-on dressing-room punch-up after one particularly fractious show. Bryant’s replacement was one David Ruffin, a Southern singer who’d already joined the group on stage a few times (including at the aforementioned gig which ended with Bryant hospitalising Paul Williams after the show and losing his job); Ruffin brought similar amounts of baggage, but also considerable commercial appeal, the final piece of a jigsaw.
This record represents the end of the Temptations’ strange, fumbling, often frustrating, often extraordinary first phase. Though nobody knew it at the time, when America next heard from the Temptations, everything would have changed.
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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