Sunday, May 30, 2010

May 30: David Ruffin, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)"

Artist: David Ruffin
Song: "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)"
Album: My Whole World Ended
Year: 1969

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While it has been shown many times that when a musician willingly leaves a band, they often find success; it is a very rare occasion that when a performer is "asked" to leave a group, that they find a similar result.  In nearly every case, regardless of the circumstances, a performer who is outed against their will fades into obscurity, though the group in question often rises again to prominence.  Then of course, there is the case of David Ruffin.  As one of the most recognizable voices in music history, it was Ruffin's vocals that were at the front of a number of The Temptations' biggest hits throughout the 1960's.  As the decade came to a close, tensions between Ruffin and the others in the group came to a head, and Ruffin was kicked out, being replaced by former Contour, Dennis Edwards.  After a series of legal actions with Motown Records, Ruffin agreed to stay with the label until the end of his initial contract, and he began working as a solo performer.  In reality, the first single David Ruffin released as a solo artist was in fact originally slated as a Temptations song, but Ruffin and an amazing cast of backing musicians took the song and turned it into a classic.  The song proves that he was the heart of his former group, and it also reflects the diversity within Motown Records that had developed over the years.  Bringing in a wide range of styles alongside some of the finest vocals ever recorded, there are few songs that can compare to David Ruffin's 1969 debut single, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)."

Musically, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)" stands as one of the most diverse sounding songs in the entire Motown catalog.  Incorporating elements of jazz, classical, soul, funk, and blues, there are few songs from anywhere in history that have as unique an overall sound as one finds here.  The song begins with a flute piece played by Dayna Hartwick that is based off of Felix Mendelssohn's "Frühlingslied."  As the song drops into the main musical phrasing, it has an almost Latin feel, mostly due to the salsa-like rhythm that is put forth by the only band capable of such an amazing musical texture: The Funk Brothers.  As they did throughout all of "the golden years" at Motown Records, The Funk Brothers are nothing short of superb on "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)," and the way in which they fuse together the different styles serves as a testament to their truly unmatched musicianship.  Creating a tension filled, steady groove, the band is in top form and whether it is the bright horns or the smooth, "walking" bassline, the band proves that after more than a decade, they were still the best in the land.  Furthermore, the fact that as a whole, The Funk Brothers are able to bring the "classic" sound that defined Motown Records and seamlessly fuse it together with these other genres provides the perfect example of just how timeless their sound and style was, as it fits in perfectly with every changing trend.

Yet as impressive as The Funk Brothers are on "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)," there is simply no getting around the fact that David Ruffin is in rare form, and one can make the case that this song represents the finest studio recording of his career.  Ruffin rarely sang with as much power and pure emotion as he does here, and it is perhaps due to the fact that without his former group alongside him, he is free to completely take the entire spotlight.  It is often the way in which Ruffin pushes around the pitch of his vocals that make them so extraordinary, and it is also this pitch movement that emphasizes the feelings behind the words which he sings.  Adding further brilliance to the overall vocal sound is Ruffin's new backing vocalists, a quintet that would make their own hit single soon after, know as The Originals.  The song itself is one of the most heartfelt, yet heartbreaking lyrics ever written, and Ruffin's performance pushes these words to a place of pure tragic beauty.  At every turn, the listener can feel the pain of his lost love, and anyone who has ever felt personal heartbreak can attest to how perfect the words fit the emotion.  While the title serves as the songs' key refrain, there is perhaps no more bittersweet a line than when Ruffin laments, " can I face tomorrow when yesterday is all I see? I just don't want to face tomorrow honey, if you're not sharing it with me..."

It is almost inconceivable to think that after being booted from The Temptations, any member would be able to create a solo career outside of the shadow of the legendary group.  Yet David Ruffin defied all odds and delivered one of the most stunning vocal performances in history with his single, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)."  On a number of levels, the song represents a pivotal moment in music history, as it displays the fusion of the old and new sounds at Motown Records, featuring elements of everything from funk and soul to salsa and jazz.  As they did nearly every time they entered Hitsville, USA, The Funk Brothers are nothing short of phenomenal, as they create one of the most unique musical compositions ever recorded, and further cemented their names as the greatest band in music history.  From the fast flute playing to the slow, steady bass work, each of the musicians is at the top of their game, and they create an amazing musical landscape over which Ruffin lays some of the most powerful and raw vocals ever captured on tape.  With a strong performance from the up and coming Originals to use as a jumping off point, Ruffin makes his case for being the most important piece of his former group, and it is truly a special vocal display that he gives on the song.  Though often lost in the massive amount of "classics" from Motown Records, one cannot overlook the importance of David Ruffin's magnificent 1969 single, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)."

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