It probably wasn't easy being Jimmy Ruffin. Despite recording one of the greatest songs in Motown history in 1966, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted", his career sputtered and he eventually had to relocate to the UK where riding the Northern Soul wave, he at least enjoyed enough popularity to earn a living.
But Jimmy Ruffin will always be best known for being David Ruffin's brother. The comparisons started early and cruelly as Jimmy got pegged to join Motown's most popular male group The Temptations until Berry Gordy heard his younger brother David sing and at the last second gave David the slot instead, the rest of course being history ("My Girl", "Ain't Too Proud to Beg", "(I Know I'm) Losing You", "Beauty is Only Skin Deep" etc.).
But while David Ruffin may have been the best vocalist Motown produced, not even he ever turned in a vocal performance more memorable than that of his big brother Jimmy's on "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted":
Following his giant hit, now one of the fabled Motown's catalogues most beloved songs, Jimmy Ruffin only had one other top 10 single, "Hold On (To My Love)" (1980) written by Robin Gibb. However, I am far more fond of his two highly underrated follow up singles to Brokenhearted, "I've Passed This Way Before" (1966) and "Gonna Give Her All the Love I've Got" (1967):
Paul Weller (The Jam, Style Council) was such a big fan of Jimmy Ruffin's that he enlisted him to sing on "Soul Deep", a 1984 single benefitting striking UK coal miners:
Ruffin was an Army veteran and a father of 6 children. Following his brother David's death from a drug overdose in 199l, Jimmy became an anti-drug advocate.
Jimmy Ruffin is on my list of all-time underrated vocalists and I was sorry to hear he passed away this week in Las Vegas where he was residing.
We'll leave you with the great Jimmy Ruffin signing his signature song "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" live in the mid-1970's on a British TV show: