Soul Retrospective: David Ruffin’s ‘David’

d.ruffin-david71David Ruffin is known as a singer’s singer. As the lead singer of the 1964-1968 Temptations, he made a great group even better. Bespectacled, wiry and intense, Ruffin’s raspy tenor and gruff baritone powered such hits as “My Girl,” “Beauty’s Only Skin Deep” and  much loved album classics like “Cindy” and “He Who Picks the Rose.” The Temptations were phenomenon and a lot of people were crushed when Ruffin left the group in 1968.

As a solo act, the hits were immediate.  Albums like My Whole World Ended and Feelin’ Good followed, but even Ruffin devotees might sense something was missing.  Ruffin seemed a bit adrift without his fellow Temptations. 1970’s great I am My Brother’s Keeper, a duet album with his brother Jimmy, seemed to have David in good voice and spirits. Little did anyone know that Ruffin was working on a solo album that sadly wouldn’t be released during his lifetime.

That album was to be called David and was recorded from January 1969 to May 1971. Most of David has the great, frantic sound that typified late 60s to very early 70s Motown. The production wasn’t as “pop-minded” at the 1964-1968 years, and often had a tougher edge. Ruffin with his range-filled voice, was the perfect singer/vehicle for this style. Producers on this album include Clay McMurray, Johnny Bristol, Smokey Robinson and Henry Cosby, among many others.

The first song, the stately “Each Day is a Lifetime,” has Ruffin back to exhibiting confidence and sounding impassioned rather than desperate. In fact, most of David has Ruffin running the gamut of emotions, rather than just “singing songs.”

From a playful take on the Jackson 5 hit “I Want You Back” to the poised “I Just Can’t Be Hurt Anymore,”  Ruffin carved out a confident and mature solo persona. Ruffin was especially adept with songs of sorrow and or alienation and David certainly has them too. The cover of Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” is particularly poignant, as is the Rick James co-written track “Out in the Country.”

Most of the songs that were on the proposed David album work well, even the sappy ones like “Dinah” and “Let Somebody Love Me.” Not surprisingly, even some of the best songs of from the sessions wouldn’t have made it on the David LP. Luckily, these songs were also made available as bonus tracks.

The hard-driving songs like “I Want To Hear You Say it Again” and “It’s Going to Take a Whole Lot Of Doin” are arguably stronger than some of the album tracks.

Although Motown didn’t seem to even think about releasing David, some of the work did get to the public early on. In 1971, “Each Day is a Lifetime” and “You Can Come Right Back to Me” were released as singles. David Ruffin fans expecting an album were waiting in vain. David was shelved. In discographies and the like, David was called an “unissued” album, and that’s what it was.

During the early ’70s, Ruffin seemed to disappear as an album act. Many thought the gap in his career was Ruffin battling with “something,” either Motown or his drug addiction. Very few realized that Ruffin actually had an album in the vaults collecting dust. And sadder still, due to the rapidly changing musical times, the window of releasing David as a new product was closed by early 1972 at the latest.

In 1973, David Ruffin was issued and it was a low selling outing. A 1974 reunion with Norman Whitfield, Me and Rock and Roll Are Here to Stay didn’t do well either. In 1975, Ruffin finally went back to the top of the charts with “Walk Away from Love” from the Who I Am album, produced by Van McCoy. Ruffin stayed with McCoy for two more albums. Ruffin’s last two LP’s were on Warner Bros. and were produced by Don Davis.

David was finally released in 2004 as a limited edition of only 3,500 numbered copies. In 2012, it was again available as a limited item, this time with 2,000 copies. In many ways, David is the classic album that his career always seemed to lack.

—Jason Elias

Jason Elias is a pop culture historian and a music journalist.

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