Tuesday night’s “American Idol” delved deep into the world of R&B and soul. With the help of guest mentor Usher, most of the top 10 contestants took on a handful of familiar songs by well-known artists (Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia,” Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire,” Chris Brown’s “Forever”), but a few ventured into less-familiar territory. One of those was Didi Benami, who struggled through a version of the legendary Jimmy Ruffin’s signature song “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted.”
First cut in 1966, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” landed Ruffin at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 (his only foray that high on the chart). Written by William Witherspoon, Paul Riser and James Dean, the song was also covered by Robson and Jerome, who took it to the top of the U.K. singles chart the same year. The track was originally intended to be recorded by the Spinners (“That’s What Girls Are Made For,” “I’ll Be Around”), but when Ruffin heard Dean’s lyrics, he convinced the Motown Records brass to let him record it instead.
Though Ruffin’s version is considered the definitive one, there have been countless covers of the track since the original version charted 44 years ago. The Supremes released an excellent version that was recorded shortly after Ruffin’s but didn’t debut until their 1969 album Let the Sunshine In. The track charted again in 1991, when Paul Young released a version that was included on the soundtrack to “Fried Green Tomatoes” (it peaked at #22).
That wasn’t the last time it appeared in film or on TV, as Vonda Shepard recorded it for one of the “Ally McBeal” soundtracks. Boy George, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Mitch Ryder and Irish boy band Westlife have also had success with the song.
“What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” remains Ruffin’s definitive song, his biggest hit and the version of the song that everyone remembers.
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