It was 47 years ago Sunday (October 14th, 1972) the Temptations released “Papa Was A Rollin' Stone.” The song was written by Motown staff writers Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong — who were best known for writing the chart toppers “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” for Marvin Gaye and “War” for Edwin Starr. Prior to “Papa Was A Rollin' Stone,” the pair had also written the Temps' last two Number One hits, “I Can't Get Next To You” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me).”
“Papa Was A Rollin' Stone” was originally recorded by a fellow Motown act called the Undisputed Truth, who were best known for their 1971 hit “Smiling Faces Sometimes.” Back then it was standard practice for Motown groups to all record the same material in hopes of one of them charting. It was the Temptations' version that hit, going all the way to Number One on December 2nd 1972 and becoming their fourth and last Number One.
In a strange twist of fate lead singer Dennis Edwards' father also died on “the third day of September,” just like in the song.
The single was an edited version of the album track, which ran for over eleven minutes. The instrumental portion was placed on the flipside. Both sides of the single went on to earn the group Grammys in 1972, with the A-side winning Best R&B Performance By a Duo Or Group with Vocal and its B-side winning the award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance.
Shortly before his 2018 death, Dennis Edwards told us the main reason the Temps kept scoring hits for Motown was legendary producer and songwriter Norman Whitfield, who understood the subtleties of Edwards' voice: “We had a hell of a marriage, me and Whitfield. I guess some producers they fit you better, I was in the same vein. He was a great producer and what he did, I think it kind of really did my voice a justice, y'know — his type of music.”
Norman Whitfield died on September 16th, 2008 due to complications from diabetes.
The Temptations — led by co-founder Otis Williams — next perform on October 18th in Biloxi, Mississippi at IP Casino Resort and Spa.