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The Temptations Songs: 11 Irresistible Tracks, Ranked

It’s too tempting not to listen to these Motown legends’ masterpieces over and over again!

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Some music artists are blessed with both industry accolades plus more personal, mind-blowing honors. The Temptations, known as the pioneers of the psychedelic soul genre with innovative songs, are no strangers to either. The Motown legends out of Detroit were awarded the No. 1 position on Billboard’s Greatest R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of All Time list, which is an incredible honor, but the response and love they’ve received from their fans has proven to be even more magical and humbling.

“I’ve had people say ‘When I die, put a Temptations album in my coffin,’” Otis Williams, the only surviving, original member of The Temptations, has shared. “When we started singing, we didn’t know our music would be that impactful.

Williams also recounted getting an emotional letter from one fan, asking him to call their ailing mother. “So I called. The mother came on the phone and the first thing she said was, ‘I asked God not to take me until I talked to Otis Williams.’ She was holding on. Moves me to tears now.”

Since 1960, the group — including its original lineup of Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and Elbridge “Al” Bryant, plus “Classic Five” member David Ruffin — have brought more than just tears to their fans.

They’ve also brought lots of joy — and hits! They’ve sold tens of millions of albums, and four of The Temptations songs have climbed all the way to No. 1 on the Billboard charts, plus 15 that made the top 10.

Old and new fans of The Temptations songs clearly can’t get enough: Their hit Emmy-winning 1998 miniseries The Temptations was watched by more than 45 million people and it also won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Television Movie or Miniseries.

The cast of 'Ain't Too Proud' at the Tony Awards
The cast of ‘Ain’t Too Proud’ at the 2019 Tony AwardsTheo Wargo / Staff / Getty

And in 2019 their story and songbook conquered Broadway with the crowd-pleasing and Tony Award-winning musical Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. “This is a musical I love and a story I want to help share,” superstar fan John Legend said in 2021, when he announced he was becoming a producer of the show for its post-COVID return. Though the musical closed on Broadway in 2022, it’s still currently touring — and thrilling audiences — all across the country.

The Temptations speaking into a microphone
The Temptations at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction (1989)Robin Platzer / Contributor / Getty

The five-time Grammy-winning group, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, are still rolling strong today: They released their album Temptations 60 in 2022, and they have an ongoing U.S. tour featuring Otis Williams and a new generation of members (there have been 24 through the years).

The Temptations songs, ranked

Here, we celebrate some of The Temptations songs that have made the group so iconic and influential to artists of all genres, plus some famous fans, through the years.

11. “Is It Gonna Be Yes or No” (2022)

“I wanted to soften them up and write something sweet and gentle. Soulful, cause they’re soulful singers,” songwriter —and Motown legend himself — Smokey Robinson said of re-teaming with the group for this “sensuous” track he produced for 2022’s Temptations 60 album. “I’m sitting there saying, ‘Smokey, you need to cut that out. I know what you’re doing to the women!” noted Otis Williams with a laugh of his early listen to its lyrics: “Action speaks louder than words, I wanna take you where touching is heard.” Let’s just say, save this one for date night!

10. “I Wish It Would Rain” (1967)

“Sunshine, blue skies, please go away. My girl has found another, and gone away.” This emotional heartbreak song, on which David Ruffin sang lead, pleads for a storm “’cause raindrops will hide my teardrops and no one will ever know that I’m crying when I go outside.” The gorgeous track hit No. 4 and was just too perfect for artists such as Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, and Bruce Springsteen to pass up a chance to cover it.

9. “The Way You Do the Things You Do” (1964)

Another one co-written by Smokey Robinson, this bouncy gem was the group’s first single to ever crack the Billboard 100 charts. Reportedly, some of the band members — including Otis Williams — burst into tears upon hearing of its success. “You made my life so bright, you make me feel alright,” indeed.

8. “Get Ready” (1966)

Well, fee-fi fo-fum, look out baby, cause here they come! This infectious tune was unbelievably thought of as an underperformer at the time it was released, which cost Smokey Robinson his standing as the band’s top writer-producer. It’s such a beloved staple on the radio now that that’s hard to believe. By 1979, Robinson was dancing his frustrations away by recording and releasing it himself as a groovy disco track!

7. “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” (1968) The Temptations songs

This Motown monster collaboration with Diana Ross and The Supremes is pure gold, and it peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, with “The Boss” and Eddie Kendricks taking lead vocal duties. It had been recorded a few times previously, including by Dee Dee Warwick, Dionne’s younger sister, though none matched the power or success The Temptations and the Supremes achieved with it.

6. “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)” (1970)

Content wise, this song from the group’s Greatest Hits Vol. 2 collection could fit in just as well today, but it was back in 1970 that it hit No. 3. “So, round and around and around we go, where the world’s headed, nobody knows,” it states as it references lying politicians, racism, taxes, gun control, evolution, revolution, too many bills, suicide and the fact that “people all over the world are shouting, ‘End the war!’” Great googamooga, the more things change the more they stay the same.

5. “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (1966) The Temptations songs

After Smokey lost his grip on head writing duties for the band, Norman Whitfield stepped in and co-wrote “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” with Eddie Holland. It hit No. 1 on the R&B charts, but peaked at No. 13 (not too unlucky!) on the Billboard Hot 100. It gained a whole new audience when it was featured in 1983’s The Big Chill, when a reunited group of old friends dance to it while fixing dinner. That scene, Glenn Close has said, “wasn’t choreographed, and I was so self-conscious.… I couldn’t believe it was my butt that ended up [front and center], and somehow ended up looking like I knew what I was doing.”

4. “I Can’t Get Next to You” (1969) The Temptations songs

The group’s second No. 1 song, on which all the members trade off on the verses and join in on the chorus, features the irresistible playing of Motown’s sensational session players, the Funk Brothers. Stereogum calls the arrangement “mind-blowing. That crowd-applause intro and that slow piano suddenly, thrillingly explodes into a monstrous vamp. Drums and congas and tambourines shimmy away, and the guitar works as a drum, too.”

3. “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (1972) The Temptations songs

The Grammys rolled out the red carpet for this winning tune, as it took home three awards in 1973: Best Rhythm & Blues Song, Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group Or Chorus, and Best R&B Instrumental Performance. It was a smash hit on the charts as well, and stands as the last of the group’s No. 1 appearances on the Billboard 100.

First recorded by The Undisputed Truth in 1972, the Temptations version, according to American Songwriter, ramped things up and “is a trip down some psychedelic lane that few musicians have the skill and talent to walk down.… It’s as much an acid trip as it is a piece of sonic entertainment.”

2. “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” (1971)

Called “one of the most wistful love songs of its era” by Time magazine, “Just My Imagination” had a resurgence in 2018 thanks to one of its biggest — and most famous — fans, director Steven Spielberg, who personally requested to use it in his futuristic film Ready Player One. The film, set in 2045, proves just how timeless The Temptations songs are, especially this one, which reigned for two weeks at No. 1 on the charts when it was released.

1. “My Girl” (1964) The Temptations songs

Its “heartbeat tempo,” courtesy of Miracles guitarist Ronnie White, was the secret to this song’s success, according to writer Smokey Robinson. He wrote it as his own personal challenge to make David Ruffin — a “sleeping giant” of The Temptations, due to his “mellow gruff-sounding voice” — sound romantic. Seems so easy and obvious now! Clearly, it was all a recipe for success, as this became the group’s first No. 1 smash on the Billboard charts.

Motown founder Berry Gordy was so pleased that he gave Robinson his standard $1,000 producer’s check bonus for going No. 1 before it reached that lofty position. “He said, ‘It’s not number one yet, but it’s most definitely going there,’” Robinson told NPR. And Robinson could — and did — take that prediction to the bank! The song, of course, would later weave its way through 1991’s My Girl, starring Anna Chlumsky and Macaulay Culkin.


For more toe-tapping tunes, keep reading!

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