The Ed Sullivan Show was one of the most important shows on US TV throughout the 1960s. For musicians, a spot on the Sunday night showcase was confirmation that you had made it. For a select few like The Beatles, it could catapult an artist to superstardom. In 1964, The Supremes became the first group from Detroit’s Motown label to appear on the show. The Temptations had their first big hit, “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” that same year (on the Gordy Records subsidiary), though it wasn’t until May of 1967 that the Tempts did their first performance for Sullivan. This left The Temptations a backlog of popular numbers to expose to a larger audience, all of which had originally charted for them between 1964 to 1966. It’s no surprise, then, that their first appearance was a medley of some of their best to that point: “All I Need,” “My Girl” and “I Know I’m Losing You.”
As the 60s went on, Motown changed in the same ways the country changed. The label was eager to stay relevant and Motown songwriter Norman Whitfield was excited to push The Temptations in a more socially conscious direction. Whitfield and Barrett Strong had co-written Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” and its success gave them the liberty to stretch out when writing for other acts on the label. Indeed, by 1969 the transformation of The Temptations was complete, with Whitfield and Strong collaborating on a trilogy of psychedelic Temptations albums Cloud Nine, Puzzle People, and Psychedelic Shack that would keep them artistically alongside what The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, and Jimi Hendrix were up to during the same period. All you need to do is take a look at some of their performances on The Ed Sullivan Show, with its brilliant lighting and set design, to see their transition to full mod and psychedelic color.
“Get Ready” – January 31, 1971
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