My abiding memory of the Motown 25th Anniversary Special is of the “battle” between the Four Tops and the Temptations. As I remember it, Tempts won hands down with the Tops reduced to repeating “sugar pie honey bunch” desperate to keep up.
Youtube reveals a slightly more nuanced story.
At first, the two bands seemed on level footing, the Tops landing a first blow that, in perhaps any other competition, could have been a knockout: “Reach Out I’ll Be There”. But was it wise to lead with their greatest ever, most dramatic hit? The Tempts are certainly more than equal to the task, parrying that mighty hit with “Get Ready”. Already, the Temptations’ stage moves demonstrate more flair, the choreography better thought out. Nonetheless, right back come the Tops, Levi Stubbs in fine voice belting out “The Same Old Song”; but is there a faint trace of irony there, already capitulating to a lack of variety? Next comes a flurry of rapid jabs, each group trying to outdo the other: “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg”, “Baby, I Need Your Loving”, “My Girl”. Bam, bam, bam. At this point, we notice something wrong. Stubbs joins his rivals to sing a few lines from “My Girl” and his group doesn’t get a chance to respond before the Temptations unleash “I Can’t Get Next To You.” What do the Tops respond with? No quite literally the same old song, but its doppelganger, “I Can’t Help Myself”. Oh dear, things look bleak for Stubbs as co. Temps delivery the powerful hook, “I’m Losing You”. Desperate now, the Four Tops try a feint “sugar pie, honey bunch” yet again, camply angled dancing.
Even if there’s no “Bernadette”, no “Standing In the Shadows of Love”, there’s no doubting the winners here.
On the Reach Out Lp, a virtual greatest hits (here on £1 EX+ mono), Stubbs dominates, his commanding growl mowing down all that dare stand its way. Gentler performances are handled by the other three Tops and, however competent, simply can’t compete. This is the major problem with the Four Tops: Levi Stubbs’ voice is perfect, but limited and, unlike the Temptations, can’t stretch to the mellower material, “My Girl”s, etc.
To quote, it’s the same old song.