Today's Song You Should Know: 'I Want You Back' By David Ruffin

Post by: Rick Ellis 27 June, 2021

There were a lot of impressive soul and R&B singers in the 1960s and 1970s, but few of them were as talented as the late David Ruffin.  Known for his unique raspy and anguished tenor vocals, you're likely to recognize his singing from his 1964-1968 stint with The Temptations. That period was known as "Classic Five" period of the group and Ruffin sang lead vocals on unforgettable hits like "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and "My Girl."

Ruffin had always been an impressive performer. As a teenager, he toured with several nationally known gospel groups like The Dixie Hummingbirds and the Soul Stirrers.  At age 16 he moved to Detroit to pursue a secular singing career and soon meet Berry Gordy Jr., a local songwriter who wanted to become a music producer. Ruffin was soon working at Gordy's Anna Records and in 1964, he joined the Temptations after one of the original members was fired. While Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams were the group's lead singers, after the success of "My Girl," Ruffin sang lead on hits like "(I Know) I'm Losing You" and "I Wish It Would Rain." 

By 1967, Ruffin had become addicted to cocaine and was eventually fired by the group. Motown kept on Ruffin as a solo act and his first single in 1969 -  "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)" - became a Top Ten hit. After the release of two solo albums, there was a three-year gap before Motown released the album "David Ruffin" in 1973. But in that period, the troubled singer recorded a number of songs, many of which remained unreleased until they came out on a 2004 compilation 14 years after Ruffin's death.

That 2004 album included a 1970 version of "Rainy Night In Georgia," which singer Brook Benton had a hit with later the same year. As well as a version of "I Want You Back, which was recorded before the Jackson 5 later made it a hit.

Both the Ruffin and Jackson 5 versions of the song were produced by Motown's in-house production group The Corporation and musically they are very similar. And as much I love the Jackson 5 version, Ruffin's has an adult longing and incessant pleading to it that is really special. Hearing Ruffin's version may ruin the Jackson 5 version for you forever.

As for Ruffin, he had a string of modest solo hits in the mid-1970s, most notably the Van McCoy-produced Top Ten hit "Gonna Walk Away From Love." But Ruffin's addiction problems continued. He changed labels in the late 1970s and at one point was hired and then refired by The Temptations after recording the 1982 album "Reunion." In 1985 Ruffin and fellow former Temptation singer Eddie Kendrick teamed up with Hall & Oates to perform and record an album at the re-opening of the Apollo Theatre. The album was successful, but Ruffin's severe addiction problems led to a falling out with Hall & Oates.

Ruffin died in 1991 due to "an adverse reaction to drugs." The death was officially ruled an accident, but some friends and family suspected foul play, since a money belt containing $300,000 from his recent tour was missing when he was dropped off at a Philadelphia hospital.

But what we're left with are some amazing performances, and of "I Want You Back" is one of my favorites.

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Last modified on Sunday, 27 June 2021 15:03