Although entitled Early Classics, this 18-track collection actually spans the period 1964 to 1970, with six tracks taken from the 1970 albums The Groove Governor and I Am My Brother's Keeper, the latter in partnership with his brother David Ruffin from the Temptations. This included the single Stand By Me, a revival of Ben E King's 1960 hit, and a terriffic cover of Tyrone Davis's Turn Back The Hands Of Time.
A further four tracks are taken from the 1969 album Ruff'n Ready, which provided him with some of his biggest hits such as Farewell Is A Lonely Sound and I'll Say Forever My Love. It also contained his unlikely, but very successful cover of 96 Tears, and the Motown standard You've Got What It Takes. Another track, I Will Never Let You Get Away, probably dates from around the same period but didn't surface until 1974 when it became the B-side in the UK of the re-issued Farewell Is A Lonely Sound single.
Taking pride of place at the start of the CD is naturally What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted, which was a huge hit for Jimmy Ruffin in 1966 and again in 1974. Its original B-side, Baby I've Got It, is also included (the only mono selection on the CD). It was never included on an album and is a good reason for considering this collection, though it is now included on the more expensive Ultimate Collection.
However, it is some of the earliest recordings that were such a revelation to me. His second single, in 1964, was the original version of Since I've Lost You. Later to be covered by Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Temptations and, even later, the Undisputed Truth, here is the definitive blueprint version.
Lonely Lonely Man Am I is best known in the Velvelettes' re-titled version Lonely Lonely Girl Am I from 1965, but had been recorded the year before by Jimmy Ruffin. His version remained in the can until 1968 when it escaped on a B-side (by this time the Temptations' even earlier 1963 version had surfaced on their Gettin' Ready album of 1966 - but that's Motown for you). It is taken at a slower, more desperately soulful and lost pace with a deep groove laid down by the Funk Brothers. They excel on this and on tracks like I Want Her Love, which has some great bass guitar playing and horns, and the tear-jerker How Can I Say I'm Sorry, another great Norman Whitfield production from 1964 that was thrown away as a B-side.
If you want to discover more of the man than the couple of hits you probably know, this budget introduction is a good place to start.