The Riff
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The Riff

A Song About a Bad Dad

The story of “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”

Black and white photo of the Temptations performing on stage.
The Temptations playing in July 1991 at the Summertime Jazz, Blues & World Music Festival in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). Photo: Zoran Veselinovic. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Motown songwriters Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong penned “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” in 1971.

In the words of Stereogum editor, Tom Breihan, “It’s a song about a piece of s**t.”

“Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” is a conversation. It’s sung in alternating lines by siblings and their mother. The siblings ask…

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