As a child, I grew up hearing The Temptations, but I don’t recall really listening. Of course, I knew of Motown and thus I knew some of their biggest songs, some by heart, even if I wasn’t entirely up on game. “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” and “My Girl,” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” are all songs from my childhood. But 1998 changed all of that. In November 1998, NBC aired a somewhat fictitious two-part miniseries based on Otis Williams’ book—and thus, his version of events—surrounding the group called The Temptations. Why was it based on Otis? Well, mostly everybody else was dead when the series came out, save for Dennis Edwards. This, of course, created lawsuits, etc.
The Temptations, “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” (1971)
While nobody was coming to see Otis until everybody else was dead, I loooooved the miniseries. By the end of 1998, The Temptations were my favorite group ever. My Spelman sister bought me the VHS box set and I think I watched it every day for almost a year. It also made me do a super deep dive into The Temps’ catalog. I was buying up every recording, from their early available records to any greatest hits, as most included different recorded versions of their most famous songs. One of those songs became an instant favorite that still stands to this day: “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)”.
Like many people, my favorite Temps lineup is the classic David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams lineup. But that was short-lived, as David had been put out by 1968, with Dennis Edwards as his replacement, which was another classic and Grammy award-winning lineup. Future lineups would create classics like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” arguably their most famous song.
By the time 1971's Sky’s The Limit was released, the album that features “Just My Imagination,” there was also a huge rift between Otis and Eddie Kendricks, who did leads on the song. In fact, “Just My Imagination” would really be the last true Temptations song, as both Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams would leave, though for different reasons. Eddie left for a solo career and because he and Otis no longer got along, and Paul left for health reasons, eventually taking his own life in 1973 in Detroit.
“Just My Imagination” is a song that, in 1971, was a throwback to earlier Temptations ballads. By this point, they were doing more of the psychedelic sounds of the time. While their songs were good, older fans wanted some of that classic Temptations soul they were known for. Producer/writer team Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong had the song on the shelf and when the time was right, The Temptations recorded it and the rest is history. The song is about the woman of a man’s life, but only in his mind because he can’t ask her out. Eddie’s vocals are perfect, the harmony is perfect and Paul comes through in the clutch during the bridge with his signature voice. There’s a reason Rolling Stone considers this song one of the 500 best songs of all time; a bittersweet honor, considering it signaled the end of an iteration of a lineup that really cemented The Temptations’ legendary status. “Just My Imagination” is good music for any occasion, because good music knows no bounds.
Also, that album cover is terrible. And that is not my imagination running away with me.