Motown founder Berry Gordy had taught Smokey Robinson about writing and producing, and Robinson now handled the duties for not only his own band the Miracles but also many other Motown acts. With the Temptations, he initially wrote many of the hits for their singer Eddie Kendricks, whose falsetto made it sound almost as if Robinson were singing. But Robinson sensed that background vocalist David Ruffin was “this sleeping giant in this group because he had this—it’s sort of like a mellow gruff-sounding voice. And all I needed was the right song for his voice and I felt like I would have a smash hit record. So I sat down at the piano to write a song for David Ruffin’s voice. So I wanted to make it something that he could belt out, but yet make it melodic and sweet.” Robinson hit the jackpot when he flipped the gender of his previous No. 1 hit, Mary Wells’s “My Guy,” with the help of Miracle Ronald White.
The pumping bass, finger snaps, and halcyon guitar perfectly evoke the lyrics “sunshine on a cloudy day.” On TV appearances, the Temps twirled their arms, lunged, and spun while the strings of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra swelled in the song’s bridge. Ruffin, tall and lanky enough to make thick black-framed glasses cutting-edge cool, raised his open hand to testify that all he needed was his woman’s love. Gordy gave Robinson a thousand-dollar bonus because he knew “My Girl” was going straight to No. 1—which it did on March 6.
12. Robinson, Smokey.
13 Elizabeth Blair, “My Girl,” npr.org, June 4, 2000.
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