The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits
The Billboard charts have a currency acknowledged around the world. The Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits, written by Adam White and Fred Bronson, pays tribute to many of those who helped to create a quarter-century of unimpeachable music: singers, songwriters, musicians, producers and more – even some of the record executives whose hustle delivered the hits and sent them to the soul summit.
Writers: William "Smokey" Robinson, Ronald White
Producers: William "Smokey" Robinson, Ronald White
No. 1, January 30, 1965 (6 weeks)
More than a hit record, "My Girl" was a touchstone.
For William "Smokey" Robinson, it became a signature song, perfectly evoking his timeless lyrical and melodic touch. For the Temptations, it propelled them — for the first time — to the peak of the pop charts. For David Ruffin, it was his first lead on a Temptations single, affirming the Midas potential of the singer's sandpaper-and-honey style.
Robinson composed "My Girl" with Ronnie White, a member of the Miracles, when the group was on the road in 1964. "We had the Temptations on a package tour with us," he told Black Music magazine. “We were doing quite a lot of dates and 'My Girl' was written in New York at the Apollo Theater. I was at the piano and Ronnie White came down...and we kind of worked out the words and everything.”
"I was going in different directions with the Temptations at the time because Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks had done all the lead vocalising at that point, and I knew David was a dynamite singer. We wanted to try some songs with David [as] lead and 'My Girl' was the very first one."
In Detroit, Robinson had cut the track in September '64 with Motown's studio cadre, later known as the Funk Brothers. James Jamerson gave "My Girl" its throbbing, heartbeat bass, Robert White played the ascending, distinctive guitar intro, and Paul Riser wrote the charts. "All of Smokey's mechanics had to be right," Riser explains. "He would first of all sit at the piano and play his little songs as plain and clear as he could, and sing them as clear as he could. It would just be piano and voice that I would have to work from."
Riser's arranging talent gave "My Girl" its texture, the strings of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra providing sweet counterpoint to David Ruffin's rough-hewn lead. Like so many at Motown, he worked instinctively, although he was a classically-trained musician. "It wasn't like I'd sit down and map it out, this note is perfect for this spot, this voicing is perfect for that spot. I would just do it," Riser says.
The Temptations — Ruffin, Williams, Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, and Otis Williams — added their vocal parts in the studio on November 10, 1964. "Smokey is one of those people whose songs have a ring of truth to them," commented bass voice Franklin. "If you're singing that song — and you have the kind of voices like the Temptations — it's easy to believe it will make it." Motown's legendary Quality Control meeting heard and judged the result, with Berry Gordy and sales vice president Barney Ales among those giving "My Girl" the thumbs-up for release.
At Motown, the Temptations had been striving since 1961 to make it. The company's A&R chief then, William (Mickey) Stevenson, says, "They were our demo cutters, our background singers. Whatever I wanted to do with a song or whenever I had an idea, I'd call the Temps. Every time they touched something, it would have colour to it. They didn't care who the song was for. With that kind of spirit, they had to end up a winner."