Ain’t Too Proud To Beg: The Temptations, The Rolling Stones, Phil Collins

Hello there! In this week’s blog we consider the song Ain’t Too Proud To Beg. This is a great Motown song from the mid-60s. We will start with the original version by The Temptations, and then discuss covers of that song by The Rolling Stones and Phil Collins.

The Temptations and Ain’t Too Proud To Beg:

We considered The Temptations in our blog post on the song My Girl. So here we will briefly review the career of the Temps.

Below is a photo of the Temptations backstage at New York’s Apollo Theater in 1964. Clockwise from lower L: Paul Williams; Melvin Franklin; Cornelius Grant (their music director); Otis Williams; David Ruffin; and Eddie Kendricks.

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The Temptations were formed in 1960 from members of two Detroit-area doo-wop groups. Otis Williams, Al Bryant and Melvin Franklin of The Distants joined up with Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams from The Primes. A bit of trivia here: The Primes had an associated girl group, The Primettes. You may not have heard of the Primettes, but they eventually became known as The Supremes.

The Temptations bounced around the Detroit area for a while, gaining a reputation for their sharp harmonies, until in 1961 they were signed by Berry Gordy.

Berry Gordy ran Motown Studios essentially as a record-producing assembly line. The song-writers generally worked in their own area, separate from the musicians. Songs were frequently written and musical productions were sketched out; then it was common for songs to be reviewed and re-worked, sometimes for long periods of time, before the product was deemed ready for the market.

In 1964 the great, multi-talented Smokey Robinson wrote My Girl for the Temptations, and in particular Smokey envisioned David Ruffin on lead vocals. That song was a smash hit, and Smokey began producing songs for the Temps.

However, Motown was an extremely competitive environment, with artists and song-writers vying with one another to score the biggest hits. The young upstart producer Norman Whitfield coveted Smokey Robinson’s position as the Temptations’ producer.

Below is a photo of Norman Whitfield from about 1970.

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In 1966, Whitfield wrote the music to a song that he believed could compete with anything that Smokey Robinson was creating. Whitfield enlisted Edward Holland, Jr (of the great Motown song-writing trio Holland-Dozier-Holland) to come up with lyrics for the song.

Holland’s lyrics described a man desperate to hold onto his woman. He insists that he is willing to do anything to retain her love, including begging and pleading.

I know you wanna leave me, but I refuse to let you go
If I have to beg, plead for your sympathy
I don’t mind, ’cause it means that much to me

[Chorus] Ain’t too proud to beg, sweet darlin’
Please don’t leave me, don’t you go
Ain’t too proud to plead, baby, baby
Please don’t leave me, don’t you go

A draft version of the song was recorded by the Temptations. But to be released by Motown, the song had to pass through Motown’s legendary Friday Quality Control meetings. Ain’t Too Proud to Beg failed on two occasions to gain approval from the Quality Control board.

Eventually, Whitfield re-structured the song, and pitched it at a level slightly higher than lead vocalist David Ruffin’s normal range. As a result, Ruffin had to strain to hit the song’s high notes. This made the desperation of the singer even more apparent.

Finally, Whitfield believed he had a winner. To his dismay, the Quality Control board voted instead to release the Temptations’ recording of Smokey Robinson’s song Get Ready.

Whitfield was really steamed. He extracted a promise from Berry Gordy that if Get Ready was not a big hit, Gordy would release Ain’t Too Proud to Beg as the Temps’ next single. Well, Get Ready made it to #1 on the R&B charts, but only #29 on the pop ratings. This was a bit of a disappointment, so in May 1966 Motown released Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.

And here is a video of the Temptations performing Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.

Although this is advertised as ‘live Temptations,’ I am not sure of this. It could be a music video, with the group lip-synching the words. In any case, the song is terrific.

David Ruffin is in great form with the lead vocals. The Temptations back him up admirably – they are young and vibrant, showing off their trademark Motown dance moves, and snappily dressed as always.

Although the tone of the song is one of desperation, at the same time the beat is bouncy and danceable. The fantastic Motown house band, the Funk Brothers, are at their best here, with a short but excellent saxophone solo in the middle of the song.

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg also hit #1 on the R&B charts; however, it made it to #13 on the Billboard pop ratings as well. As a result, Berry Gordy, Jr replaced Smokey Robinson with Norman Whitfield as the Temptations’ lead producer.

This just goes to show you the incredibly competitive and cutthroat atmosphere at Motown. Although Smokey Robinson a legend in the music business, and in addition was Berry Gordy’s best friend, Gordy didn’t hesitate to replace him as soon as one of Smokey’s records faltered.

The Temptations continued to churn out hits.  However, they subsequently went through a number of changes, both in personnel and in their musical style. In 1968, the Temptations dropped lead singer David Ruffin, after Ruffin began missing recording sessions and performances. It is believed that most of Ruffin’s problems stemmed from his addiction to cocaine.

Then in about 1970, Whitfield steered the Temptations away from ballads and R&B and into “psychedelic soul.” Whitfield had been impressed by artists such as Sly and the Family Stone, and he produced a number of songs in this genre, such as Cloud Nine and Ball of Confusion.

Although The Temptations continued to enjoy commercial success with psychedelic soul, a number of the band members preferred their older musical style. Friction ensued, and in 1974 Whitfield was replaced as the Temptations’ producer.

The Temps have had very few hits since the late 1970s. However, they continue to tour with only one original member, Otis Williams. However, what a great group they were! They released a slew of great hits; received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

bigchilldinner

Kevin Kline and Glenn Close in the dinner scene from the movie The Big Chill.

The Temptations’ music is imprinted on our minds. It was a stroke of genius that in that great 1983 ensemble movie The Big Chill, the song Ain’t Too Proud to Beg is playing while the characters are cleaning up after a meal (see above), and everyone ends up dancing around the kitchen table as they wash the dishes.

The Rolling Stones and Ain’t Too Proud To Beg:

We discussed the Rolling Stones in our blog post on their song Under My Thumb, and again with their covers of Sweet Little Sixteen and It’s All Over Now. So here we will briefly review the career of the Rolling Stones.

Below is a group of very young Rolling Stones wearing matching leather vests. From L: drummer Charlie Watts; bassist Bill Wyman; lead vocalist Mick Jagger; guitar and vocals, Brian Jones; guitar and vocals, Keith Richards.

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The Rolling Stones first formed in the early 60’s, when Brian Jones and pianist Ian Stewart joined forces with singer Mick Jagger and guitarist Keith Richards. They began their career as leaders of a British blues revival, covering American blues standards by artists such as Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. After a short period they added bassist Bill Wyman and drummer Charlie Watts.

The Stones have been prolific, long-lived and exceptionally creative. Original member Ian Stewart was jettisoned in 1963, and Brian Jones was forced out in 1969 and died shortly afterwards; however, the remaining four Stones continued on until Wyman left the group in 1993; and Jagger, Richards and Watts still play with The Stones today.

Keith Richards and Mick Jagger have written songs for the group since the mid-60s. In September 1963, John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote I Wanna Be Your Man on the spot, during a visit with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The two Beatles gave the song to the Stones, who recorded it shortly before the Beatles themselves released it.

Since the song took John and Paul approximately twenty minutes to compose, apparently Mick and Keith said to themselves something like, “That didn’t look very difficult, did it?” A few months later, Mick and Keith wrote their first song, and the rest is history.

However, in this case the Stones are performing not an original tune but a cover of one of their favorite R&B songs. Here are the Rolling Stones in their “official promo video” for their 1974 version of the Temptations’ Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.

I assume that this is a “music video,” and that the group is just lip-synching along to the record. However, the Stones could surely reproduce this in a live performance. The song is from the group’s 1974 album It’s Only Rock and Roll.

The quintet is backed on this song by Billy Preston on keyboards and clavinet. As always, Mick Jagger’s vocals are terrific. I assume that the group is decked out in white suits in honor of the famous natty dressing of Motown artists. I’m not sure how well that notion works here, as Mick has an eerie resemblance to a circus clown.

This is an unusually derivative performance by the Stones. Normally, their individual imprint is dramatically stamped on a song, whether it is their own composition or a cover. However, in this case the Stones pretty much copy the original rendition by the Temptations. They just give the song a slightly harder ‘rock and roll’ edge than the original.

Album cover for the Rolling Stones It's Only Rock and Roll, 1974.

Album cover for the Rolling Stones It’s Only Rock and Roll, 1974.

At left is the album cover for It’s Only Rock and Roll. It appears to show the Stones being greeted by a heavenly chorus (or a Greek chorus? I can’t really tell).

Apparently the original album concept was to have one side of the album be a live concert recording, while the other side would be entirely covers of the Stones’ favorite R&B songs.

However, neither of these ideas materialized. The only cover on the album is Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, while the remaining songs are all new Jagger-Richards material, with no live songs. So, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg is the only song on this album that is true to the original concept. By the way, It’s Only Rock and Roll was the first album produced by Jagger and Richards.

During this period, Mick Taylor was playing guitar for the Stones. This was his last album before he left and was replaced by Ronnie Wood. In addition, apparently the musical tracks were all recorded by the band, while Mick added his lead vocals in separate studio takes at a later time.

It’s hard to imagine that the Rolling Stones are still touring, more than 50 years after the band formed. Apparently Keith Richards is now having significant problems with arthritis, and during the Stones’ performance at the 2006 Super Bowl halftime show, it was not clear that Keith understood what planet he was on.

But far be it from me to criticize the Stones, as they have proved to be one of the greatest and most durable rock music acts of all time. So, let them do whatever the hell they desire – they’ve earned it.

Phil Collins and Ain’t Too Proud To Beg:

Phil Collins is a singer-songwriter, producer and actor who has achieved success in music both with a band and later in a solo career. Collins was trained in theatre and had a fair amount of success as a child actor.

At age 12, Collins was cast as the Artful Dodger in a London production of the play Oliver! However, from an early age he was fascinated by drumming. His big heroes were Ringo Starr of the Beatles, and big-band drummer Buddy Rich.

In 1970, Phil Collins was hired by the art-rock group Genesis to replace their departed drummer. For the next five years, Collins provided percussion and backup vocals for Genesis.

Below is a photo of the group Genesis. From L: keyboardist Tony Banks; drummer and backup vocalist Phil Collins; bassist Mike Rutherford; guitarist Steve Hackett; lead vocalist Peter Gabriel.

Embed from Getty Images

However, in 1975 the group’s leader and lead vocalist Peter Gabriel left the group. Many people assumed that Genesis would not survive Gabriel’s departure, primarily because Gabriel was a visionary musician who appeared to have single-handedly determined the band’s direction and musical tastes.

At that time, the remaining Genesis members embarked on a long and fruitless search for Gabriel’s replacement. In the end, following 400 unsuccessful auditions for a vocalist, the band decided to promote Collins to lead singer. The group then made a transition
from their progressive rock roots and towards a more accessible, radio-friendly pop-rock sound.

Much to the surprise of the critics, the stripped-down trio Genesis  consisting of Banks, Rutherford and Collins, went on to unprecedented commercial success. They produced best-selling single records and albums, and became regulars in the Billboard Top 40 pop charts.

Phil Collins subsequently began a solo career, and for several years would alternate between fronting for Genesis and releasing his own albums. Instrumentally, Collins was noted for his use of “gated reverb” technique, which made his drum solos sound as though they were emerging from a gigantic echo chamber. His drum work was certainly distinctive, and you could instantly pick out a Genesis song from the style of its drumming.

Phil Collins has always had a love for Motown and soul music. In 1982 he released a cover of the Supremes’ You Can’t Hurry Love which reached #1 in the U.K. and #10 in the U.S.

Here is live video of a Phil Collins concert of Motown and soul standards in New York City from June 2010. The beginning of the concert has the band and backup singers performing  Stevie Wonder’s Signed, Sealed and Delivered.  Phil Collins then enters and breaks into a cover of the Temptations’ Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.

I apologize for the video and audio quality – it appears that this was caught on someone’s iPhone. However, Phil Collins has a very impressive voice, and it’s clear that he loves Motown songs.

Since his days as a drummer with Genesis, Phil Collins has enjoyed a phenomenal career. He has sold more than 150 million records, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 (as a member of Genesis), and he is regularly rated one of the top all-time rock drummers.

It is interesting that, despite all his commercial and musical success, Phil Collins has more than his share of critics. In part, some of this may be just a backlash from the great commercial success enjoyed by Genesis once he became their lead singer.

Until Peter Gabriel’s departure, Genesis was primarily a cult band that was best known for Gabriel’s brilliant and charismatic performances. However, the group changed direction radically after Gabriel left, and part of the enmity towards Collins may arise from the fact that the “lowbrow” version of Genesis was so successful.

However, that probably does not explain why many people consider Phil Collins
“the most hated man in rock” [the UK’s Daily Telegraph], and [by FHM] as “the pop star that nobody likes”.

Part of the criticism directed towards Collins is the notion that he has right-wing political leanings. Collins was quoted as saying that he would leave England if the Labour Party won the 1992 British elections. Labour won, and Collins moved to Switzerland.

However, Collins insists that he was never a Conservative Party supporter and swears that his only reason for moving to Switzerland was because of his relationship with a woman who lived there.

In addition, Collins has had bitter public arguments with several noted British musicians, including Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (probably not a good career move to get on the wrong side of Page), and Oasis frontmen Noel and Liam Gallagher.

I don’t know that much about Phil Collins, so I’m not sure why he is the recipient of so much criticism. I must admit, Collins’ 1985 hit single Sussudio is a song that I despise, but that doesn’t seem like sufficient reason to dislike him personally. Anyway, a number of his Genesis and solo songs are quite impressive, so we wish him well.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg
Wikipedia, The Temptations
Wikipedia, Norman Whitfield
Wikipedia, The Rolling Stones
Wikipedia, Genesis (band)
Wikipedia, Phil Collins

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. He and his wife share their college-town life with two delightful cats, Lewis and Clark. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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