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"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"
The Temptations
Gordy 7121
December 1972
Billboard: #1    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

The Temptationsour months before the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" entered the Billboard Hot 100, labelmates the Undisputed Truth were struggling up the chart with their version of the Norman Whitfield-Barrett Strong composition. Peaking at number 63, that recording was all but forgotten when the Temptations reached number one for the fourth time their career.

The Temptations - 'All Directions'
"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" was Detroit soul group The Temptations' 30th Top 40 hit and their fourth number one record. The Grammy-winning single, which spent 12 weeks at No. 1, was taken from their 23rd album release, All Directions. First charting on Aug. 19, 1972, All Directions spent two weeks at the No. 2 position on the Hot 200 album chart, and remained on the chart for 44 weeks.
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It had long been a papular Motown practice for songs in the company's Jobete publishing catalogue to be recorded by several different artists on the label's roster. "I Heard It through the Grapevine" was recorded not just by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight and the Pips, but by the Miracles, the Isley Brothers, the Temptations and the Undisputed Truth.

Producer Whitfield often cut his songs with different acts, but the Temptations and the Undisputed Truth seemed exceptionally susceptible to this intramural effort. On the Undisputed Truth's four Gordy albums, at least 10 songs were at one time recorded by the Temptations, including the group's biggest hit, "Smiling Faces Sometimes" (number three in September, 1971).

Although it wasn't originally their song, the Temptations have made "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" an integral part of their repertoire. Lead singer Dennis Edwards remembers being upset the first time he heard the lyrics. "It was the third of September/ That day I'll always remember/ Cause that was the day my daddy died." Edwards' father, a preacher rather than a rolling stone, had passed away on the third of September and the singer found the words upsetting. Dennis admits now that he hated the record when the group first heard it, but changed his opinion later. The fact that it won a Grammy didn't hurt. Oddly, the Grammy was for best R&B Instrumental. The song was so long on the album (11 minutes, 45 seconds) that the "B" side of the edited single was just an instrumental passage.

"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" was the first Temptations chart-topper featuring tenor Damon Harris, who replaced Eddie Kendricks [see "Keep on Truckin'"] Original member Richard Street returned after the death of Paul Williams. More changes happened the '70s: Glenn Leonard took Harris' place in 1975, and Edwards left -- temporarily, as it turned out -- in 1976, to be replaced by Louis Price. But the last Temptations hit was "Masterpiece" (number seven in April, 1973), and a 1976 album The Temptations Do the Temptations, in which they wrote all their own songs, failed to produce a chart single).

With only two original members (Otis Williams and Melvin Franklin) still in the group, the Temptations parted ways with Motown in 1977. They recorded two albums for Atlantic, but even the production magic of Norman Harris and Brian Holland couldn't make a single appear on the Hot 100. Four years after their departure, the Temptations were wooed back to Motown with "Power," a song Berry Gordy had co-written especially for them. Dennis Edwards returned and stayed through the Temptations/Four Tops tour that resulted from the 1983 NBC Motown's 25th anniversary special.

When Edwards left again, he was replaced by Ali-Ollie Woodson, who sang lead on "Treat Her Like a Lady" (number 48 in February, 1985). Leonard left before the NBC special and was replaced by Ron Tyson, who made his debut with the group on the TV special. Edwards returned (and Woodson departed) in 1987, in time for the aptly titled Together Again LP.

- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.

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