By BOB ANDELMAN
(Originally published August 25, 1984)
CLEARWATER – There were no casualties, but the battle was fierce.
Arms flailed, legs kicked, and tempers flared, but it was all in good fun as the Temptations and Four Tops squared off musically on the stage at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday night.
The promoters nicknamed the talented doubleheader “T.N.T.: Tempts ‘N Tops.” And oh, the fun these nine men shared with the sold-out crowd. They danced and sang most (though not an) of the old favorites in the course of a 115-minute set. Each group had 45 minutes to do a selection of its best and latest material.
An 18-piece orchestra – including 11 horns – supported the two bands through the nonstop program, which included several nine-part harmonies.
OTIS WILLIAMS interview excerpt: “People would think something was wrong with us without the dancing. It’s like a trademark; we’re locked into it.”
The “battles” – three segments when the Temptations and Tops sang together or against each other – were superbly conducted, whether it was one group angering the other by stealing a hit (the Temptations sang a few verses of “I Can’t Help Myself’ to which the Four Tops responded with “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”) or joining together for the show stopping finale “Higher and Higher,” a tribute to the late Jackie Wilson.
THERE WERE also tributes to Sam Cooke (“You Send Me”), Otis Redding (“Dock of the Bay”) and Teddy Pendergrass (“Close the Door”).
Between shows, Otis Williams, leader and organizer of the Temptations 24years ago, said the Temptations-Four Tops show came about ‘as a result of their performing together on a TV special last fall honoring 25 years of Motown Records.
Trying to fit in every hit either band ever had is impossible in this format, Williams said, although it doesn’t excuse ignoring masterpieces like “Ball of Confusion” and “Psychedelic Shack.”
“We are alloted X amount of time,” he insisted. “When you’re dealing with 24 years of time, something’s got to be left out. We try to pack as many of the old things, but we also try and get the best of today – the best of both worlds.”
Among the hits the Temptations did sing and dance to were: “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and “I Wish It Would Rain.”
THE HIGHLIGHT of the evening was the performance of “I Can’t Get Next To You,” the “psychedelic soul” song that defines what the Temptations are all about. It had the high and low parts, the screeching harmonies and a spot for trumpets.
One of the most promising songs the Temptations did do was a smoothie called “Sail Away.” It is from their new album, Truly For You, which was completed on Wednesday and is scheduled for release Sept. 24. Other songs on the LP cover rhythm & blues, rock, easy and reggae – “No gospel. We try to deliver that the way we sing,” said Williams.
Precision dancing, long the keystone of the Temptations act, was as polished as ever. For 20 years, choreographer Charlie Atkins has directed the quintet’s complicated movements.
“People would think something was wrong with us without the dancing. It’s like a trademark; we’re locked into it,” Williams said. Besides, “it keeps ‘you in shape. A lot of (the dances) are kind of complicated. You have to catch center rhythm leaks in the song.”
WILLIAMS WAS horror-stricken when asked if break dancing might be integrated into the Temptations’ routine. “Break dancing is strictly for the young sters. What will the human body do next? In Australia, they expected us to break dance. No way. You want break dancing, call the Jacksons.”
The Four Tops opened with their first big hit, 1964’s “Baby I Need Your Loving,” moving through “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got),” “I Believe in You,” a medley of “Bernadette,” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Walk Away Renee,” “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” and their 1981 comeback smash, “When She Was My Girl.” They closed with “I Can’t Help Myself.”
The most noteworthy nonmusical as pect of the program was the way the well-dressed Eckerd Hall crowd let loose. Nearly the entire audience rose to applaud, sing and sway with the show, spending more than half the evening on its feet.