The Temptations were in Motown’s Studio A today (May 15, 1972), where they laid down the initial tracks for their hit single “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.”
“Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” was written by Barrett Strong and the song’s producer, Norman Whitfield.
Norman Whitfield had been on a run of hits with The Temptations since 1966, starting with the group’s single “Aint Too Proud To Beg.”
As the 1960’s came to a close, it was Norman Whitfield’s signature production via a multi-million dollar contract, that was taking the “Motown Sound” into the 1970s.
Norman Whitfield’s signature “Psychedelic Soul,” style of production was landing for artists like The Undisputed Truth, Edwin Starr and The Temptations, who hit in 1970 with Whitfield’s tune “Ball of Confusion.”
“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” was originally recorded by The Undisputed Truth, but the song failed on the charts, stalling at #63.
Norman Whitfield was undeterred at the lack of success of the song, so he began laying down instrumentals for a version by The Temptations, while the group was on tour.
When the members of The Temptations heard the original instrumental tracks, they all hated the song.
“We were just so damn sick of that kind of song,” Temptations group member Otis Williams said in his autobiography. “We begged him to go back to ballads.”
To make matters worse, the song struck a deep personal chord with group member Dennis Edwards, whose father passed away on October 3.
The opening lines of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” quotes the date “September 3,” which was close enough to rile Dennis Edwards, as he laid down his vocals for the song.
“It upset me,” Dennis Edwards said. “I got so mad that I sang it very tightly…but Norman got so good at psyching everybody up that I realized: that was the attitude he wanted.”
When The Temptations’ album All Directions was released, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” hit #1 on the Pop charts and earned the group three Grammy Awards.