The group was formed in Harlem, New York in 1964 as a trio called the Poets, composed of lead singer Donald McPherson, Luther Simmons, Jr., and Panama-born Tony Silvester. They made their first recordings for Leiber & Stoller`s Red Bird label, but soon changed their name to the Insiders and signed with RCA. After a couple of singles, they changed their name once again in 1966, this time permanently to the Main Ingredient, taking the name from a Coke bottle.
The Main Ingredient then teamed up with record producer Bert DeCoteaux, who had a sense of the lush, orchestrated direction soul music would take in the early 1970s. Under his direction, the Main Ingredient reached the R&B Top 30 for the first time in 1970 with «You`ve Been My Inspiration». A cover of The Impressions` «I`m So Proud» broke the Top 20, and «Spinning Around (I Must Be Falling in Love)» went into the Top 10. They scored again with the McPherson-penned black power anthem «Black Seeds Keep on Growing», but tragedy struck in 1971: McPherson, who had suddenly taken ill with leukemia, died unexpectedly. Stunned, Silvester and Simmons regrouped with new lead singer Cuba Gooding, Sr., who had served as a backing vocalist on some of their previous recordings and had filled in on tour during McPherson's brief illness.
The Gooding era began auspiciously enough with the million-selling smash «Everybody Plays the Fool», which hit number two R&B and number three pop to become the group`s biggest hit. The accompanying album, Bitter Sweet, became their first to hit the Top 10 on the R&B album chart; its follow-up, 1973`s Afrodisiac, featured several songs written or co-written by Stevie Wonder, although it did not produce any huge successes on the singles charts. They peaked at number eight on the R&B chart in 1974 with «Just Don`t Want to Be Lonely», which sold over a million copies and also reached number ten on the pop chart, and the disco flavored «Happiness Is Just Around the Bend», which did not. In 1975, the group recorded several songs co-written by Leon Ware, including the R&B Top Ten «Rolling Down a Mountainside». By this point, however, Silvester was harboring other ambitions; he released a solo album called Magic Touch that year, and left the group to form a production team with Bert DeCoteaux.