The Story of… ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ by Jimmy Ruffin

ByQuyen Anne

Dec 21, 2023
Jimmy Ruffin
Jimmy Ruffin. Picture: Getty

One of the most enduring soul classics of the 1960s, ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ is a song that captures the anguish and despair of losing a loved one.

Listen to this article

Loading audio…

The song was recorded by Jimmy Ruffin, the older brother of David Ruffin, the lead singer of The Temptations.

But how did this song come to be? What inspired its lyrics and melody? And what impact did it have on the listeners and the singer himself?

Here, we will explore the history and legacy of this timeless masterpiece.

  1. Who wrote the song?

    Jimmy Ruffin – What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted


    The song was written by William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser, and James Dean (not that one), who were Motown writers.

    They originally intended the song for The Spinners, another Motown group, but Jimmy Ruffin persuaded them to let him record it instead.

    Jimmy Ruffin was the older brother of David Ruffin, the lead singer of The Temptations.

  2. What was the inspiration behind the song?

    The inspiration behind the song is not very clear, but according to some sources, the writers wanted to create a song that expressed the pain and sorrow of losing a loved one.

    They were influenced by the soul music of the time, especially by singers like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke.

    The song also reflects the social and political turmoil of the 1960s, when the US was involved in the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement was facing resistance.

    Jimmy Ruffin, who recorded the song, said that he felt a personal connection to the song, as he had lost his mother when he was young and had also experienced romantic heartbreak. He said that he sang the song with emotion and sincerity, hoping to touch the hearts of others.

  3. How was it made?

    Funk Brothers in 1959
    Funk Brothers in 1959. Picture: Getty

    The song was recorded in February 1966 at Hitsville USA (Studio A), the Motown headquarters in Detroit. The song was produced by Weatherspoon and William “Mickey” Stevenson.

    Jimmy Ruffin’s voice was accompanied by the instrumentation of Motown’s in-house studio band, the Funk Brothers, and the joint backing vocals of Motown session singers the Originals and the Andantes.

    • The 25 greatest Motown songs of all time, ranked

    The Funk Brothers were a group of musicians who played on most of Motown’s recordings from 1959 to 1972. They included bassist James Jamerson, drummer Benny Benjamin, keyboardists Earl Van Dyke and Johnny Griffith, guitarists Robert White and Eddie Willis, and percussionist Jack Ashford.

    The Originals were a vocal quartet who sang background vocals for many Motown artists, such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Diana Ross. They included Freddie Gorman, Walter Gaines, C.P. Spencer, and Hank Dixon.

    The Andantes were a female vocal trio who also sang background vocals for many Motown artists, such as The Four Tops, The Supremes, and The Temptations. They included Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow, and Louvain Demps.

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    The song was released on June 3, 1966 as a single on the Soul label, a subsidiary of Motown. It was also included on Jimmy Ruffin’s album Jimmy Ruffin Sings Top Ten, which was released in 1967.

    The song was a hit in both the US and the UK, reaching No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 6 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart, and No. 8 on the UK Singles Chart in 1966.

    In 1974, the song was reissued in the UK and reached No. 4, making it Jimmy Ruffin’s highest-charting single there.

  5. Who else has recorded the song?

    Robson & Jerome – What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?


    The song has been covered by many artists over the years, such as Dave Stewart and Colin Blunstone in 1980, Paul Young in 1992, Robson & Jerome in 1996, Westlife in 2000, and Joan Osborne in 2002.

    Bruce Springsteen covered the song in 2022 for his album Only the Strong Survive.

  6. What did Jimmy Ruffin do after the song’s success?

    Jimmy Ruffin in 1998
    Jimmy Ruffin in 1998. Picture: Getty

    Jimmy Ruffin continued to record for Motown and had several more hits, both in the US and the UK. Some of his notable songs include “I’ve Passed This Way Before”, “Gonna Give Her All the Love I’ve Got”, “Don’t You Miss Me a Little Bit Baby”, and “I’ll Say Forever My Love”.

    He also collaborated with his brother David Ruffin, the former lead singer of The Temptations, on the album I Am My Brother’s Keeper, which featured the songs “Stand by Me” and “When My Love Hand Comes Down”.

    Jimmy Ruffin also moved to the UK in the 1980s, where he enjoyed a revival of his popularity and collaborated with artists such as Paul Weller and Heaven 17. He recorded new versions of his old hits, and also released new songs, such as “Hold On to My Love”, which reached No. 10 on the UK Singles Chart in 1980.

    Jimmy Ruffin died on November 17, 2014, at the age of 78, after a long illness. He was remembered as one of the most soulful singers of Motown and one of the pioneers of the genre.

    His song ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ remains a timeless classic that has been covered by many artists and influenced generations of music lovers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *