The Solo Years

Ruffin's first solo single was a song originally intended for the Temptations, "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)". The single (from the album also entitled My Whole World Ended) was released in 1969, and reached the US Pop and R&B Top Ten. This was followed by the 1969 album Feelin' Good. A third album, titled David, was recorded in 1970–71, but was shelved by Motown and did not see commercial release until 2004.

In 1970, Ruffin recorded an album with his brother Jimmy, I Am My Brother's Keeper, for which they had minor hits with "When My Love Hand (Comes Tumbling Down)" and "Your Love Was Worth Waiting For". His next official release for Motown did not arrive until 1973 when David Ruffin was released. While his solo career initially showed promise, Ruffin went into decline, reportedly in part because of his cocaine addiction and the lack of support from Motown.

His final top ten hit was "Walk Away from Love" in 1975, produced by Van McCoy, which reached #9 on the Pop Charts. It was also Ruffin's only entry into the UK Charts (as a solo artist), and was a hit there as well, making it into the Top Ten (peaking at #10) in early 1976. The single sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in February 1976.

Other notable recordings from Ruffin's solo career include "I Lost Everything I've Ever Loved" (1969); the gospel-inflected "I'm So Glad I Fell For You" (1970); "Blood Donors Needed (Give All You Can)" (1973); "Common Man" (1973) (which was sampled on the 2001 Jay-Z song "Never Change"); "No Matter Where" (1974); "Who I Am" (1975); "Statue of a Fool" (1975); and cover versions of the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back", "Rainy Night in Georgia" (popularized by Brook Benton)—both recorded for the shelved 1970 album; and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes' "I Miss You" (1973), featuring Eddie Kendricks (later Kendrick).

After leaving Motown in 1977, Ruffin recorded for Warner Bros. Records, releasing the albums So Soon We Change (1979) and Gentleman Ruffin (1980). He later signed with RCA Records, accompanied by former Temptations colleague Eddie Kendricks, who chose to rekindle their friendship when Kendricks himself started experiencing problems with the Temptations.

David Ruffin started touring with Eddie Kendricks (who dropped the "s" from his last name at this time) as a duo act in 1985. That year, longtime Temptations fans Hall & Oates teamed up with Ruffin and Kendrick to perform at the re-opening of the Apollo Theater in New York. Their performance was released as a successful live album and single. The four singers also sang a medley of Temptations hits at Live Aid on July 13, 1985. In 1985, a live medley of "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "My Girl" was released by Hall & Oates featuring Ruffin and Kendrick. It reached #20 on the Billboard Hot 100, #12 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #40 on the R&B chart. The single earned Ruffin his first and only Grammy nomination.

After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the Temptations in 1989,  Ruffin, Kendrick, and Dennis Edwards began touring and recording as "Ruffin/Kendrick/Edwards: Former Leads of The Temptations". In 1991, they completed a successful month-long tour of England which grossed nearly $300,000. At the time of his death, they were planning a European tour. He had finished recording the single "Hurt the One You Love" for Motorcity Records.