He wasn’t an original member of the Temptations, but without his famous addition to the group in 1968, Motown’s most legendary quintet might not have been so legendary beyond the 1960s.
There aren’t many vocal groups out there who could lose not one but both of their premier singers then have someone step in and take them to even higher heights than they had achieved before.
That was the case with the Temptations and Dennis Edwards, who died on Friday, February 2, 2018, just one day shy of his 75th birthday, leaving behind a legacy of hits with his former band – and one particular solo smash – that have been R&B (and in many cases pop) staples for decades.
Edwards joined the “Tempting” Temptations in 1968 with the unenviable task of replacing David Ruffin, the group’s erstwhile but popular co-lead singer (alongside Eddie Kendricks) whose distinguished tenor had led the group through so many classics the previous four years. By the time Edwards joined the group, they had already achieved eight Number One R&B hits, with one of those (Ruffin’s classic “My Girl”) topping the pop chart as well.
But Edwards brought a different dimension to the group – one that Kendricks’ falsetto and Ruffin’s tenor couldn’t.
Edwards’ heavier, church-like baritone took the Temptations’ new Barrett Strong/Norman Whitfield brand of soul music to a different level, giving them a weightier sound that helped them keep up with the heavier times (the late ’60s/early ‘70s) and the more psychedelic, protest-laden music that defined the era. He hit right out of the box with 1968’s “Cloud Nine,” which became Motown’s first song to win a Grammy (for Best R&B Vocal Group Performance).
Edwards’ gritty vocals would help The Temps stay relevant on pop and soul radio, despite the well documented turmoil that swirled within and around the group, which resulted in many line-up changes throughout the band’s history. Between 1968 when Edwards entered the fold, and 1976 when he first left (he would later rejoin the group twice – in 1980 and again in 1987), the Temptations topped the pop chart three more times – and the R&B chart seven – to become the most successful black group in both charts’ long histories, earning their billing as “Emperors of Soul” in the process.
Edwards sang lead or co-lead on six of those seven No. 1 R&B hits (see list below) and on two of the three No. 1 pop singles (the only exception to both being “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” on which Kendricks did the honors.
After their long run of hits through the mid 1970s, Edwards was fired by the group in 1977 as it left Motown Records, only to rejoin when they returned to the label three years later. They reached the top 20 of the R&B charts several more times in the 1980s with Edwards, most notably with singles like “Power” and “Standing On The Top” (the latter featuring Rick James).
In between stints with the Temptations during the 1980s, Edwards toured with the group’s other former lead singers Ruffin and Kendricks as “The Original Lead Singers of the Temptations,” a short-lived review that ended when the two others died in 1991 and ‘92, respectively.
Edwards and the Temptations had an up-and-down relationship that endured legal battles over the band’s namesake, particularly after Kendricks and Ruffin died and Edwards continued to tour under the Temptations moniker. Original member Otis Williams – now the only surviving member of the “classic five” lineup as well as of any of the group’s 1960s/ early-‘70s iterations, sued (successfully) to keep the Temptations name and forced Edwards to add the word “review” to his Temptations billing.
The two entities sauntered on during the ‘80s and ‘90s as both the Temptations and Edwards, who had made a name for himself as recurring lead singer and as solo artist, continued to record songs and tour.
And although they were fewer and farther between, there were more hits for both acts in the mid-to-late 1980s.
Dennis Edwards (solo) and the Temptations both reached #2 on the R&B charts in 1984/85. First Edwards did it with the classic soul staple, “Don’t Look Any Further,” featuring Siedah Garrett (later famous for singing on Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and writing “Man In The Mirror”). The Temptations followed in early 1985 with “Treat Her Like A Lady” under Edwards’ second replacement lead singer Ali-Ollie Woodson.
“Don’t Look Any Further,” which Edwards did not write, has since become one of the most sampled or interpolated R&B songs in music history, with classics like Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full,” the remix to TLC’s “Unpretty,” the remix to Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Get Money” and 2Pac’s “answer” record “Hit ‘Em Up” all using the song’s distinctive sixteenth-note drum pattern and bass melody to power them. According to the sample history site, WhoSampled.com, there are 82 songs that have sampled “Don’t Look Any Further” to date.
Sadly, Dennis Edwards was never able to recapture that song’s magic during his solo career, which easily makes “Don’t Look Any Further” the song for which he is best known.
But his legacy as one of soul music’s premiere vocalists was already firmly established long before his all too brief solo success – as his more than 20 top-10 R&B singles as lead singer of the world’s greatest soul band attests.
And thankfully, that can never be erased.
Dennis Edwards may you Rest In Peace!
P.S. Keep reading…
Here are all the songs that reached the top ten of the R&B chart with Dennis Edwards as lead or co-lead singer (both with the Temptations and solo, along with their R&B chart peaks and year), in chronological order:
1. “Cloud Nine” (#2; 1968) – Motown’s first Grammy Award winner
2. “Run Away Child, Running Wild” (#1; 1969)
3. “Don’t Let the Joneses Get You Down” (#2; 1969)
4. “I Can’t Get Next To You” (#1; 1969…#1 pop also)
5. “Psychedelic Shack” (#2; 1970)
6. “Ball of Confusion” (That’s What the World Is Today) (#2; 1970)
7. “Ungena Za Ulimwengu” (Unite the World) (#8; 1970)
8. “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” (#8; 1971)
9. “Take A Look Around” (#10; 1972)
10. “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” (#5; 1972…#1 pop chart)
11. “Masterpiece” (#1; 1973)
12. “The Plastic Man” (#8; 1973)
13. “Let Your Hair Down” (#1; 1974)
14. “You’ve Got My Soul On Fire” (#8; 1974)
15. “Happy People” (#1; 1975)
16. “Shakey Ground” (#1; 1975)
17. “Glasshouse” (#9; 1975)
18. “Keep Holding On” (#3; 1976)
19. “Standing On The Top – Part 1” (with Rick James) (#6; 1982)
20. “Don’t Look Any Further” (solo) (#2; 1984)
21. “I Wonder Who She’s Seeing Now” (#3; 1987)
22. “Look What You Started” (#8; 1988)
And here are some notable non-top ten honorable mentions:
1. “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”
2. “Power” (#11; 1980)
3. “(You’re My) Aphrodisiac” (solo) (#15; 1984)
4. “Coolin’ Out” (solo) (#23; 1985)
You can hear all of these Dennis Edwards/Temptations tunes on my special Spotify playlist by clicking here.
And check out this video (below) for “Don’t Look Any Further” featuring a very dapper Dennis singing with Siedah Garrett: