Motown had one of its first big days this day in 1965 – “My Girl” by the Temptations hit #1 in the U.S., making it the first chart-topper on mainstream charts for that band and only the second one for male artists on Motown. Until that point the Detroit label had most of its success with girl groups such as the Supremes. For the Temptations, it was their 11th single but the first one to go to the top of the singles chart, although the previous year they’d had their first of 15 #1’s on the R&B chart with “The Way You Do the Things You Do.”
It came about at the Apollo Theater in late-’64, when two of Motown’s top acts – The Temptaions and The Miracles – were playing double bills. Smokey Robinson had written the song, with a little help from his Miracles bandmate Ronald White, and the Temptations heard it and loved it. The story varies a little depending on who tells it, and when. Robinson originally said his wife back then, Claudette, inspired it, but years afterwards would say it was “written with all the women in the world in mind.” Likewise, at times he’s said he originally planned to have The Miracles do it, with him singing it himself, but was convinced to let The Temptations do it because they loved it so much; other times he’s said he wrote it specifically for David Ruffin of The Temptations who could “belt out” the tunes with his “mellow yet gruff” voice. Either way, that’s what happened and it was the first Temptations single to have Ruffin singing lead. Eddie Kendricks had usually been their main singer upto then.
The rest of the group weren’t ecstatic at the idea at first but Smokey and Berry Gordy (Motown’s owner) convinced them to let Ruffin take the mic and the results were startling- they went on to have a great string of hits with him singing including “I Wish it Would Rain” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”. Of course, the universality and simplicity of the song and catchy melody would have likely made it a hit with any of the Temptations taking the lead. A few months after its release, it was put out on the album The Temptations Sing Smokey, with them doing a full LP’s worth of Robinson songs. It was the first of eight-straight albums by them to go to the top of R&B charts. While the song hit #1 in the U.S., it only got to #8 in Canada and missed the top 40 altogether in Britain at the time. However, oddly enough it was re-released and got to #2 there in 1992 when it was used as the title track to a Macaulay Culkin movie!
Rolling Stone rank it as the 88th greatest song of all-time, sandwiched between two other ’60s greats, the Mamas & the Papa’s “California Dreamin’” and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.” By the way, Robinson apparently didn’t want to be sexist… he also wrote the hit “My Guy” for Mary Wells, another #1 hit for Motown.