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A Temptations Tribute: The '70s and '80s

by Mosi Reeves

A Temptations Tribute: The '70s and '80s

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In recent weeks, we've lost two more members of the Temptations fraternity: Otis "Damon" Harris and Richard Street.

Both men joined the group in 1971, well after the group's classic lineup began to fracture with the 1968 departure of brilliant yet troubled lead vocalist David Ruffin. (Dennis Edwards replaced him.) Street initially filled in for Paul Williams, who suffered from alcohol addiction (as memorably depicted in the 1998 TV miniseries The Temptations) and was forced into retirement after the group recorded the incredibly lush ballad "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)." Meanwhile, Eddie Kendricks, who sang the lead with Williams on that classic single, left the group over various disputes. Harris stepped in.

With producer Norman Whitfield leading The Temps in a controversial "psychedelic soul" direction, most of the lead vocals went to Edwards and his stentorian "man's man" delivery. Their glory days were mostly over after one more seminal single, 1973's "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." But as this playlist proves, they continued to make great songs, albeit with far less frequency than those '60s golden years. "What It Is?", from 1972, has a marvelous funk breakdown that has subsequently been sampled by Kanye West (for Common's "The Corner") and Beck (for "Earthquake Weather"). "Standing on the Top", released in '82, is a funk stomper with Rick James that captured the group's bellowing and authoritative doo-wop harmony. Boogie-funk gem "Treat Her Like a Lady" thrilled longtime fans in 1983.

For a highlight that features Harris (who left the group in 1975) and Street (who stuck around until 1992), listen to "Heavenly," a stoned-soul showcase where Harris' mid-range lead takes center stage and then is complemented by Street's light falsetto just before the chorus. Also check out "Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)," a gospel-inflected ballad where Street promises to "rap to you for a little while." Though both singers are gone now -- Harris succumbed to prostate cancer in mid-February, while Street died of a pulmonary embolism just a few days later -- they'll be part of the Temptations story forever.

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