John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?”

The death of Ruffin reminds us of how central his artistry was to the success of Motown.

By - Dec 5th, 2014 03:02 pm
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Jimmy Ruffin

Jimmy Ruffin

Jimmy Ruffin died two weeks ago. He was one half of The Ruffin Brothers, a gospel-influenced group out of Mississippi. At times it seemed like those brothers were 90 percent of what I loved about Motown. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but with David Ruffin singing lead for The Temptations on songs like My Girl, and Jimmy’s moving performance of What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?,there was a lot of Ruffin in that label’s DNA.

Motown benefited immensely from the Great Migration. In the middle of the last century, a wave of African Americans said goodbye to the sharecropper’s life and swept north, taking higher paying jobs in the factories and mills. In Chicago, the blues got electrified and in Detroit, Motown was born. With a stable of artists, writers and producers as deep as any, Berry Gordy’s little label that could made history.

Jimmy Ruffin may be a footnote, but his song has such a compelling beauty that it seems to sit smack dab in the middle of the Motown story. Until I read his obituary, I always assumed this song was by the great team of Holland, Dozier and Holland. It has all the earmarks of their work, a semi-classical chord structure, operatic grandeur and a full-throated male vocalist to put a stamp of authority on it. Their usual vehicle, The Four Tops, had the unbeatable Levi Stubbs, perhaps the most powerful vocalist of the ‘60s.

This song may have been influenced by them, but it holds it’s own and takes a small step backwards from the high drama the Tops created. Written by William Weatherspoon, Paul Riser, and James Dean, it wanders back and forth between the keys of F and G, doing little you can predict but still feeling completely logical. I have spent long hours trying to tease out these very tricky chords and I think I have something close. But it doesn’t matter, I’ll never be able to sing like a Ruffin. The pathos he injects into the material may have seemed commonplace at that time, but we live in an age where irony rules and this kind of commitment to a song might now strike some as embarrassing. Oh well.

A fews years back, a documentary called Standing In The Shadows Of Motown presented the mostly anonymous session players from those sterling hits and paired them up with contemporary artists. I get the logic — any of the original stars might have again eclipsed the band, known as The Funk Brothers, and the idea was to put them at center stage. This song was one of those performed, sung with real tenderness and power by Joan Osbourne, yet it made me realize that on many occasions it’s the song, not the singer. When everything is in balance, words, music, chords, groove, band and singer — it all disappears and you are left alone with nothing but the pure essence of the song. Here are the words:

As I walk this land of broken dreams,
I have visions of many things
But happiness is just an illusion
Filled with sadness and confusion

What becomes of the broken hearted?
Who had love that’s now departed?
I know I’ve got to find
Some kind of peace of mind

The roots of love grow all around
But for me they come a tumblin’ down
Every day heartaches grow a little stronger
I can’t stand this pain much longer

I walk in shadows, searching for light
Cold and alone, no comfort in sight
Hoping and praying for someone who cares
Always moving and goin’ nowhere

What becomes of the broken hearted?
Who had love that’s now departed?
I know I’ve got to find
Some kind of peace of mind
Help me

I’m searching though I don’t succeed
For someone’s love, there’s a growing need
All is lost, there’s no place for beginning
All that’s left is an unhappy ending

Now what becomes of the broken-hearted?
Who had love that’s now departed?
I know I’ve got to find
Some kind of peace of mind
I’ll be searching everywhere
Just to find someone to care
I’ll be looking everyday
I know I’m gonna find a way
Nothings gonna stop me now
I’ll find a way somehow
I’ll be searching everywhere…

The despair in this song is perfect. It could be the singer’s last words or maybe an overlong epitaph. Why do we like these dark, dark moods? The sad tale here is delivered with an energy that’s hard to imagine coming from such a mournful place. Songs are mysteries. We never get to answer the questions surrounding them and it’s probably what draws us back again and again. To have been part of such a shining moment in music is more than most will ever achieve. I hope it meant as much to Jimmy Ruffin as it did to me and so many others.

0 thoughts on “Sieger on Songs: “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted?””

  1. Anonymous says:

    “Happiness is just an illusion” while the singer searches for peace of mind, and then decides that it will be found – truly poetic, and one of those songs that isn’t appreciated as much as it should be when it first comes out!

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