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Flashback: The Temptations Stage a Very Fragile Reunion in 1982

Rick James helped get the Temptations back on the radio with “Standing on the Top,” but the reunion period would turn out to be short-lived

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations – which chronicles the epic career of the legendary Motown vocal group – opens up on Broadway this week. It’s a musical based on the 1988 memoir of Temptations founder Otis Williams, the sole living member of the classic lineup. But unlike many Broadway musicals, it makes no attempt to sanitize the more salacious parts of their story.

“Otis can see things in hindsight,” Dominique Morisseau, who adapted the story for the stage, told Rolling Stone. “He can be a little more honest about things that were happening in the group. There’s nothing that’s going to harm the [ex-members]. They’re in their graves. So he could be truthful about how he felt.”

One of the more interesting parts of the story comes in 1982 when many of the group’s former members put aside years of bitterness and legal battles to reunite for the album Reunion and a tour. It had been over a decade since David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, who sang many of their biggest hits, had performed with the group in any capacity. They joined forces with Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, Dennis Edwards, Glenn Leonard and Richard Street to create a fierce seven-man version of the group.

This was just one year after Rick James used the Temptations as background vocals on his megahit “Super Freak,” and he repaid the favor by producing their leadoff single “Standing on the Top.” (He also happened to be cousins with Melvin Franklin.) It became their biggest hit in years, reaching Number Six on the R&B chart.

But once they hit the road, old troubles quickly resurfaced. Ruffin was addicted to crack by this point and missed many shows. Kendricks, meanwhile, couldn’t hit the high notes since years of smoking had inflicted horrible damage to his vocal cords. The whole thing became a logistical nightmare and a financial drain since each show that Ruffin missed cost them big money. By the end of the year, Williams had enough and pulled the plug on the whole thing. He continued touring and recording with the pre-reunion lineup, even if the absence of Ruffin and Kendricks meant headlining smaller halls.

Amazingly, the Temptations are still on the road over 60 years after Williams put together the earliest lineup of the group. They’ve been through an absurd number of lineup changes, with Williams being the one constant. “As [Berry] Gordy and everybody else knows about myself, I am the glue,” Williams told Rolling Stone last year. “If I’m going to glue something together, I want it to be worth something and make a profound statement.”

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