Falsetto Eddie Kendricks sings lead on the record, composed by Robinson and Rogers while on the road with The Miracles as part of the Motortown Revue tour. Its plethora of pick-up lines ("You got a smile so bright/you know you coulda been a candle/I'm holding you so tight/You know you coulda been a handle") began as a light-hearted joke between Robinson and Rogers to pass time on the long bus rides. Realizing they had something they could work with, the Miracles kept the lyrics in mind and prepared the song for the Temptations, who by this time had only one single that had ever made it onto a Billboard chart (1962's "Dream Come True" made it to #22 on the R&B singles chart) and six flopped singles. This version of the song actually appears on two of their early 1960s albums; 1964's Meet The Temptations, and 1965's The Temptations Sing Smokey.
The recording was done on January 8, 1964, a mere two weeks after founding Temptation Elbridge Bryant had been fired, and Jimmy Ruffin's younger brother David Ruffin had taken Bryant's place. While Ruffin would sing lead on stage he would remain a background singer on the singles for most of 1964, but after Smokey Robinson heard him sing lead during the Temptations' Motortown Revue performance, Ruffin was assigned to sing lead on what would become the Temptations' first number-one hit, "My Girl".
The Temptations learned about the success of "The Way You Do the Things You Do" after returning home to Detroit, Michigan and hearing nonchalantly from a Motown executive that "oh, you guys got a hit." After reading the number 76 ("with a bullet") listing in Billboard magazine, Temptations members Otis Williams and David Ruffin immediately began crying with joy. During this period the group's baritone Paul Williams was still considered the main lead singer; but due to the success of this single, Kendricks would be given the lead on the next two following singles.
Rita Coolidge covered "The Way You Do the Things You Do," and it was released in 1978 as the third single from her most successful album, Anytime...Anywhere. In the U.S., the single reached #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #18 on the Cash Box Top 100. It also reached #16 in Canada. It is ranked as the 151st biggest Canadian hit of 1978.
"The Way You Do the Things You Do" has been recorded or performed by other artists many times, including a second version by The Temptations with Diana Ross & the Supremes in 1968. A special Italian language version was recorded in 1967 by The Temptations themselves, with the title Sei solo tu (It's just you).
The song has been an American Top 40 hit in four successive decades, from the 1960s to the 1990s. In 1985, a live version (part of a medley with "My Girl") was released by Hall & Oates featuring David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick, reaching #25.