Die-hard Temptations fans didn't need to see the movie

November 04, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

I FLASHED MY daylong bus pass at the subway station attendant just as I noticed the tune he was singing, only slightly above a whisper.

"I never heard about or caught her playing. "

A line from the Temptations' "The Girl's Alright With Me," quite possibly the most exquisite song ever recorded.

"Ah, a Tempts tune," I said. "Did you watch the movie?"

"Didn't everybody?" he answered.

No doubt most die-hard Temptations fans did. Others simply wouldn't have to. There wasn't much the NBC miniseries "The Temptations" could tell die-hard Tempts fans that we didn't already know.

The miniseries might impress that other group, those folks who think they are die-hard Tempts fans. There is a distinct difference between these two groups. The deluded die-hard Tempts fans know about two Temptations songs. One of them is "My Girl." The other one isn't.

Let me illustrate this point. A few years ago I called one of these oldies stations that apparently had the notion it specialized in every Tempts tune ever made.

"Play 'Fading Away' by the Temptations for me," I asked.

"Huh?" came the response.

"Thank you," I said, and then hung up. Real pains-in-the-butt, those aspiring Tempts fans.

These are the same folks who think that the old commercial put out by WJZ is funny and cute. You remember the one. Five Temptations wannabes crucifying "My Girl," substituting the words "Bob Turk" in place of the song title while a grinning Turk sings along with them.

If you thought this commercial was cute and funny, if you weren't inclined to saddle up and ride out to WJZ to tar and feather the guilty parties, you ain't a die-hard Tempts fan. Nooooooo. Die-hard Tempts fans were aghast. Die-hard Tempts fans were ready to take prisoners. It wasn't just the substituting of the words "Bob Turk" for "My Girl." Turk, after all, is one weather forecaster extraordinaire.

It was those five wannabes attempting to sing "My Girl." If you're a die-hard Tempts fan, you don't want to hear that song sung by anyone except Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams, Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks in the background with David Ruffin kicking it on lead vocals. Die-hard Tempts fans accept no substitutes, not even in parody.

There is an easy way to discern if you're a die-hard Tempts fan or just an aspiring one. You are a die-hard Tempts fan if:

You find yourself suddenly scatting the last seven notes of "Runaway Child, Running Wild" in an imitation of Eddie Kendricks' smooth falsetto voice.

You know the song "Fading Away." You even know it was the flip side of the 45 rpm "Get Ready."

You can't be dissuaded from the immutable truth that the Tempts are the best rhythm and blues male group to ever grace the planet. Its four-year run of hits from 1964 -- when David Ruffin joined the group -- through 1968, when he left, has not been matched by any R&B male group before or since.

The Tempts' debut album, "Meet the Temptations," is a collector's item for you. You love the songs "Check Yourself," "Dream Come True" and "I Want A Love I Can See" as much as you do the group's more famous hits.

You're so familiar with the lyrics of Tempts' songs that you re-arrange them to suit your own experience. Young black men circa 1969 could easily sing the line in "Runaway Child, Running Wild" that goes "roaming through the city going nowhere fast, you're on your own at last." But they soon brought it down to a personal level and changed it to "roaming through the city going nowhere fast, police on your ass."

You listen to a woman on Randy Dennis' WWIN show on 95.9, hear her say she has to buy some Tempts CDs because she doesn't have any and think, "You poor, deprived child."

Dennis Edwards, who replaced David Ruffin, had to grow on you, assuming of course he ever did.

Over 30 years after it happened, David Ruffin's leaving the Temptations still has you devastated.

The last, of course, is the truest test. Die-hard Tempts fans treated Ruffin's departure from the group with all the seriousness of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, which happened the same year. Ruffin's leaving wasn't as grave, of course.

But it was damn close.

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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