With the exception of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, one would be hard pressed to name a Motown act who went through as many creative shifts as the Temptations. While Wonder's and Gaye's changes of direction were a product of their own creative rebellion against Berry Gordy's brilliant but often formulaic vision, the Temptations seemed to be the label's official "keeping up with the times" artists, starting out as interpreters of Smokey Robinson's silky-smooth sweet soul confections and going on to embrace rock guitars, work with members of Funkadelic, and be produced by Rick James, all while holding onto their trademark vocal style. The length and breadth of the Temptations' career would make it practically impossible for a single-disc career retrospective to be truly comprehensive, and The Ultimate Collection is missing a few essential tracks (most notably "Psychedelic Shack" and "Runaway Child, Running Wild"), while two latter-day hits, "Treat Her Like a Lady" and "Error of Our Ways," don't exactly bring this set to a triumphant conclusion. But if you're only going to own one Temptations disc, The Ultimate Collection is a very good one to get; it includes the majority of the group's biggest hits, the remastering sounds great, and the chronological sequence gives a fine picture of the group's constant musical evolution. The Ultimate Collection isn't the last word on the Temptations, but it's a splendid starting point to their music, and will add a satisfying portion of sweet-and-sour soul to your next party. Special added attraction: a rare a cappella take of "My Girl" is included as a bonus.
Although the Temps made a magnificent chart-busting comeback in '98, the late '60s through mid '70s will always be considered their golden era. In those days, when David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks were still part of the group, they ruled the R&B charts, turning out hit after soulful hit. Among the scads of Temptations anthologies, here their exhaustive catalogue is pared down to the essentials. It's the sound that arose from an amalgam of music styles. The group skillfully employed a church meeting testimonial style for the silky smooth "My Girl," and blues braggadocio on the insistent "I Can't Get Next To You." Not to mention one of the most memorable first lines in all music history on the classic "Ain't Too Proud to Beg": "I know you wanna leave me/ I refuse to let you go. . ." You know the rest. Songs like "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" and "Get Ready" borrowed structurally from gospel quartets. Still, their vocal stylings were radically innovative in the context of pop. Thanks to the writing team of Norman Whitfield and Smokey Robinson, Motown's quintessential quintet delivered out-and-out poetry that spanned -- and depicted -- almost a decade. This collection is a building block (or the cornerstone) for anyone who wants to know anything about American music.