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Posted by: In: Other 11 May 2024 Comments: 0


569-The Temptations-Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.

1972-Number 14 single.

Best Bit-At 3.54. The legend is that the songs lead singer Dennis Edwards thought that the songs co-writer Norman Whitfield was trying to aggravate him with the songs opening line,’It was the 3rd of September, that day I’ll always remember, yes I will, ’cause that was the day my daddy died.’ Edwards father was said to have died on that date, but he actually found out later it had been October 3rd. Norman Whitfield said that he chose the date because it fit in well with the song, he said he had no idea when Edwards father had died.

The Temptations (see also best songs 1031-1001 and 777) were formed in Detroit, Michigan, United States, in 1960, and at the time of writing they remain active, with the groups one constant being the only surviving co-founder of the group Otis Williams. Over the 60 plus years there have been 27 different official members come and go, with Williams having performed on all of The Temptations recordings. Otis Williams was born Otis Miles Jr. on October 30th, 1941, in Texarkana, Texas, United States, shortly after his birth his parents split, and when he became a teenager, he adopted his mother’s maiden name for his stage name. Although Williams has been the groups one constant, he has very rarely sung lead vocals, focusing instead on his role as the group’s leader and organiser, and as the background ‘baritone.’ Williams can notably be heard providing the spoken word contribution on The Temptations & Supremes duet ‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ (see also best songs 1001.)

‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ was the only single released from The Temptations 15th studio Album ‘All Directions,’ from July 1972, the song was co-written by Norman Whitfield, (1940-2008) (see also best songs 911-777-533-480-346 and 233 ) and Barrett Strong, (1941-2023) (see also best songs 777) with the production being by Whitfield. ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ was originally written in 1971, and first recorded by fellow ‘Motown’ group ‘The Undisputed Truth,’ but when it was released as a single it got no higher than Number 63 on Billboard in 1972. Norman Whitfield who was always trying to push the musical barriers, reworked the song in to a 12 minute epic, filling the song with long instrumental parts. This didn’t please everyone, with some saying that The Temptations were only playing a bit part, while Whitfield put the music first. The five members of The Temptations at that time who performed on the track were Dennis Edwards, (1943-2018) Damon Harris, (1950-2013) Richard Street, (1942-2013) Melvin Franklin, (1942-1995) and Otis Williams. Lead vocals on the track were performed by Edwards, Franklin, and Street, who sang a verse each, taking on the roles of siblings questioning their mother about their now dead father.

Barrett Strong Jr. was born on February 5th, 1941, in West Point, Mississippi, United States, he died on January 28th, 2023, at the age of 81. Barrett Strong is the co-writer of some of Motown records most enduring classics, including ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ originally recorded by Gladys Knight & the Pips,’ but made timeless by Marvin Gaye, (1968-Billboard & UK Number 1) and ‘War,’ for Edwin Starr (1970-Billboard Number 1 & UK Number 3) Barrett Strong was also the co-writer with Norman Whitfield of many of The Temptations hits of their ‘Psychedelic Soul’ period. His solo recording discography includes four studio Albums released between 1975-2001, and at least 14 singles released between 1959-1981. In 1959 Barrett Strong recorded ‘Money (That’s What I Want’) which became the first ever ‘Motown’ hit single, when reaching Number 23 on Billboard in America in 1960.

The music for ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ was provided by the ‘Motown’ in house studio band ‘The Funk Brothers,’ (see also best songs 948-920-650-411-382-212-148 and 28) with some of the players on the track being Maurice Davis, (1941-2012) (trumpet) Melvin ‘Wah Wah Watson Ragin, (1950-2018) (guitar) Bob Babbitt, (1937-2012) (bass) and Aaron Smith (drums.) ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ was the last classic ‘Motown’ track to be recorded at the original famous ‘Studio A’ in Detroit, as most of Motown’s studio work had moved to Los Angeles by then, but The Temptations chose to record this in Detroit.

Berry Gordy the founder of Motown records in 1959, has paid a glowing tribute to Norman Whitfield, saying, ‘He could take one chord, like on ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone,’ and play the same chord and do all these different beautiful melodies and stuff that many people could not really imagine this guy doin’. And I would watch him and he did it all by himself as a producer. He would work with five guys in the Temps, and he would change leads on each one. He would pick the right lead for the right song, ya know, and he’d utilise all five of those leads in a song that was just incredible. When I listen to ’em today, now that I have time to listen to ’em, I’m saying, “Wow! This guy was probably the most underrated producer we had.’

‘It was the 3rd of September, that day I’ll always remember, yes I will, ’cause that was the day that my daddy died. I never got a chance to see him, never heard nothin’ but bad things about him, Momma I’m depending on you to tell me the truth. Momma just hung her head and said, son Papa was a rolling stone.’