Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jimmy Ruffin

The death of Jimmy Ruffin turns us once again to his 1966 Motown classic, "What Becomes of the Broken-hearted ?"

It was written by William Weatherspoon, James Dean and Paul Riser (now last man standing). Weatherspoon and Dean had done military service with Ruffin, and all three arrived at Motown around the same time in 1964. Ruffin had followed his brother David, who became lead singer of the Temptations. Riser had been working as session trombonist, music copyist, and budding strings arranger.

In 1966, the writing trio were in the studio; Paul Riser takes up the story.

"What happened is this: we had a three-hour session and we had an hour left. We did two songs and had an hour left. This is at the rhythm stage, the foundation. So I said: “I’ve got some chords, do you want to try?” They said: “Yeah, bring them up.” Motown was just like R&D, research and development, all the time, they had an open-door policy. So they allowed me to get these chords out and we started working them and it became the song. The structure was just like I wrote it. But we didn’t have a title, so one of the producers, William Weatherspoon, he stuttered quite a bit, he said: “I-I-I-I-I really like that, Paul.” They took the song and put lyrics and melodies to it. I did all the music, they put lyrics and melody to it, which are great, both sides".

It was destined for the (Detroit) Spinners, but Ruffin heard Weatherspoon singing the tune through, and called the favour. The backing vocalists brought in were members of The Originals and The Andantes, and Riser produced one of his great "string conversations" for the final arrangement.

You can find the original for yourself. Here's a run through with some of the original Funk Brothers, using Riser's orchestration, recorded for "Standing in the Shadows of Motown", in 2002, with vocals from Joan Osborne.  Strings from 45 seconds in.

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