Papa Was a Rollin' Stone

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"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"
Single by The Temptations
from the album All Directions
ReleasedSeptember 28, 1972
Format7" single
RecordedDetroit, Michigan
Hitsville USA (Studio A); May 15, June 14, June 22, & June 28, 1972
GenrePsychedelic soul,[1][2] funk
Length6:54 (single edit)
12:02 (album mix)
LabelGordy Records
G 7121
Writer(s)Norman Whitfield
Barrett Strong
ProducerNorman Whitfield
The Temptations singles chronology
"Mother Nature"
(1972)
"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"
(1972)
"Masterpiece"
(1973)
 
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"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"
Single by The Temptations
from the album All Directions
ReleasedSeptember 28, 1972
Format7" single
RecordedDetroit, Michigan
Hitsville USA (Studio A); May 15, June 14, June 22, & June 28, 1972
GenrePsychedelic soul,[1][2] funk
Length6:54 (single edit)
12:02 (album mix)
LabelGordy Records
G 7121
Writer(s)Norman Whitfield
Barrett Strong
ProducerNorman Whitfield
The Temptations singles chronology
"Mother Nature"
(1972)
"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone"
(1972)
"Masterpiece"
(1973)
"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone '87"
Single by Temptations
A-side"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone '87"
Released1987
Format7" single/12" single/CD
GenreSoul
LabelMotown

"Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" is a psychedelic soul song, written by Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong as a single for Motown act The Undisputed Truth in 1971. This version of "Papa" was released as a single in early 1972, and peaked at number 63 on the pop charts and number 24 on the R&B charts.

Later in 1972, Whitfield, who also produced the song, took "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" and remade it as a 12-minute record for The Temptations, which was a number-one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and won three Grammy Awards in 1973. While the original Undisputed Truth version of the song has been largely forgotten, The Temptations' version of the song has been an enduring and influential soul classic. It was ranked #168 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, one of the group's three songs on the list. In retrospect, The Temptations' Otis Williams considers "Papa" to be the last real classic the group recorded.

Overview[edit]

Beginning with an extended instrumental introduction (3:53 in length), each of the song's three verses is separated by extended musical passages, in which Whitfield brings various instrumental textures in and out of the mix. A solo plucked bass guitar part, backed by hi-hat cymbals drumming, establishes the musical theme, a simple three-note figure; the bass is gradually joined by other instruments, including a blues guitar, wah-wah guitar, Wurlitzer Electric Piano notes, handclaps, horns, and strings; all are tied together by the ever-present bass guitar line and repeating hi-hat rhythm. A very unusual thing about this song is that it uses only one chord throughout the entire song -- B-flat minor.

Vocal jobs are performed in a true ensemble style: Temptations singers Dennis Edwards, Melvin Franklin, Richard Street (who was a frequent fill-in for Paul Williams and his eventual replacement) and Damon Harris (who had replaced Eddie Kendricks as the group's falsetto singer the previous year) alternate vocal lines, taking the role of siblings questioning their mother about their now-deceased father; their increasingly pointed questions, and the mother's repeated response ("Papa was a rollin' stone/wherever he laid his hat was his home/and when he died, all he left us was alone [with the double entendre "a loan" indicating their poverty status][citation needed]") paint a somber picture for the children who have never seen their father and have "never heard nothing but bad things about him."

Friction arose during the recording of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" for a number of reasons. The Temptations did not like the fact that Whitfield's instrumentation had been getting more emphasis than their vocals on their songs at the time, and that they had to press Whitfield to get him to produce ballads for the group. In addition, Dennis Edwards was angered by the song's first verse: "It was the third of September/That day I'll always remember/'cause that was the day/that my daddy died". While legend has it that, coincidentally, Edwards' father had died on that date, making him apprehensive of recording the song, Edwards' father actually died on the third of October, not September.[3] The other half of the legend - that Norman Whitfield forced Edwards to rerecord his parts dozens of times until he finally got the angered, bitter grumble he desired out of the usually fiery-toned Edwards - was true.[3] Whitfield's treatment of the group would eventually lead to his dismissal as their producer.[3] The guitar parts were played by Melvin "Wah-Wah Watson" Ragin.[4] The Temptations' version of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" followed in the extended-length "cinematic soul" tradition of the work of Isaac Hayes and others, and future songs like Donna Summer's fourteen-minute "Love to Love You Baby" and the instrumentals of MFSB expanded upon the concept in the mid-1970s.

Release and awards[edit]

A seven-minute edited version of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" was released as a single in September 1972. For this mix, congas were added to bolster the song's sparse percussion; this version appeared on the 1973 Anthology triple LP. The Temptations' box set Emperors of Soul has the edited version in stereo, but without the congas. The b-side was the instrumental backing by The Funk Brothers without the Temptations' vocals (except for a single "Unngh!" at the end of the second verse). "Papa" rose to number one on the U.S. pop charts and number five on the U.S. R&B charts, becoming the Temptations' final pop number-one hit. The song, the anchor of the 1972 Temptations album All Directions, won three 1973 Grammys: its a-side won for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Group; its b-side won for Best R&B Instrumental (awarded to Whitfield and arranger/conductor Paul Riser); and Whitfield and Barrett Strong won for Best R&B Song as the song's composers.

Notable covers and remixes[edit]

A number of notable covers of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" have been recorded:

Charts[edit]

The Temptations version[edit]

Charts (1972-1973)Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[12]16
Canadian RPM Top Singles[13]12
France (SNEP)[14]42
Germany (Media Control AG)[15]11
Italy (FIMI)[16]12
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[17]5
Netherlands (Mega Single Top 100)[18]3
South African Chart[19]6
UK (Official Charts Company)[20]14
US Billboard Hot 100[21]1
US Billboard Hot R&B Singles[21]5
Charts (1987) (Remix)Peak position
UK (Official Charts Company)[20]31
Chart (2010)Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Back Catalogue Singles Wallonia)[22]19

Was (Not Was) version[edit]

Chart (1990)Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[23]15
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[24]40
Canadian RPM Top Singles[25]57
Irish Singles Chart[26]11
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[27]13
Netherlands (Mega Single Top 100)[28]14
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[29]22
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[30]6
UK (Official Charts Company)[7]12
US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play[31]10
US Billboard Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales[31]43
US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles[31]60

Personnel[edit]

Undisputed Truth version[edit]

Temptations version[edit]

Sample[edit]

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Released in 1972 as a single from Law of the Land

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References[edit]

  1. ^ Robert Dimery (2011). Hachette UK, ed. 1001 Songs: You Must Hear Before You Die.  "this seven-minute single (a U.S. No. 1) and its near-twelve-minute album version remain the apex of the psychedelic soul era."
  2. ^ Tyler Clifford. "Local legendary Motown Sound trumpeter Maurice Davis dies at the age of 71". Wxyz.com. The E.W. Scripps Co. Retrieved 16 July 2013.  "Maurice Davis was involved in producer Norman Whitfield's transition of the Motown Sound into a psychedelic soul label. Whitfield placed much emphasize on instrumentation over vocals, which allowed Davis and the Funk Brothers to shine. The Temptations were a major element in this endeavor, including the production of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone.""
  3. ^ a b c Ribowsky, Mark (2010). Ain't Too Proud to Beg: The Troubled Lives and Enduring Soul of the Temptations. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-26117-0. p. 232
  4. ^ "A brief history of Wah Wah Watson". Wah Wah Watson Music. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  5. ^ "The Pioneers's Papa Was a Rolling Stone cover of The Temptations's Papa Was a Rollin' Stone". WhoSampled.com. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  6. ^ Halstead, Craig; Chris Cadman (2003). Michael Jackson: The Solo Years. Authors OnLine. ISBN 075520091-8. 
  7. ^ a b "1990 Top 40 Official UK Singles Archive - 9th June 1990". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  8. ^ "Overtime overview". Allmusic.com. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  9. ^ Lucy Tauss (July/August 2005). "Overtime Lee Ritenour". JazzTimes.com. JazzTimes, Inc. Retrieved 16 July 2013. 
  10. ^ Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Going Back review on Allmusic". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  11. ^ "Craig David's Papa Was a Rolling Stone cover of The Temptations's Papa Was a Rollin' Stone". WhoSampled.com. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  12. ^ "Ultratop.be – The Temptations – Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  13. ^ "Papa was a rollin' stone in Canadian Top Singles Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  14. ^ "Papa was a rollin' stone in French Chart". Dominic DURAND / InfoDisc. Retrieved 16 June 2013.  You have to use the index at the top of the page and search "Temptations"
  15. ^ "The Temptations - Papa Was A Rollin' Stone". Charts.de. Media Control.
  16. ^ "The best-selling singles of 1973 in Italy". HitParadeItalia (it). Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
    62. Papa was a rolling stone - The Temptations [#12]
  17. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – The Temptations search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  18. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – The Temptations – Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" (in Dutch). Mega Single Top 100.
  19. ^ John Samson. "Papa was a rollin' stone in South African Chart". Retrieved 6 June 2013. 
  20. ^ a b "Temptations". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  21. ^ a b "All Directions awards on Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 5 June 2013. 
  22. ^ "50 Back Catalogue Singles – 7 February 2009". Ultratop 50. Hung Medien. Retrieved 17 July 2013. 
  23. ^ "Was (Not Was) – Papa Was A Rolling Stone – Austriancharts.at" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  24. ^ "Ultratop.be – Was (Not Was) – Papa Was A Rolling Stone" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  25. ^ "Papa was a rolling stone in Canadian Top Singles Chart". Library and Archives Canada. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
  26. ^ "Papa was a rolling stone in Irish Chart". IRMA. Retrieved 16 June 2013.  Only one result when searching "Papa was a rolling stone"
  27. ^ "Nederlandse Top 40 – Was Not Was search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  28. ^ "Dutchcharts.nl – Was (Not Was) – Papa Was A Rolling Stone" (in Dutch). Mega Single Top 100.
  29. ^ "Charts.org.nz – Was (Not Was) – Papa Was A Rolling Stone". Top 40 Singles.
  30. ^ "Was (Not Was) – Papa Was A Rolling Stone – swisscharts.com". Swiss Singles Chart.
  31. ^ a b c "Are You Okay? awards on Allmusic". Allmusic. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 
Preceded by
"I Can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash
Billboard Hot 100 number one single (The Temptations version)
December 2, 1972 (one week)
Succeeded by
"I Am Woman" by Helen Reddy