The most versatile of Motown's vocal groups, and one of the most successful soul acts of the 1960s, The Temptations epitomized classic soul at its most urbane and graceful. Stop-on-a-dime choreography and classy elegance made the group a hit on stage; in the studio, their harmonies benefited from Motown's best songwriters and producers. The presence of several talented lead vocalists with distinct styles meant that they could play it both smooth and sweaty, and enabled them to adapt to progressive funk and rock trends better than most 60s soul stars.
Although they formed in 1956, it wasn't until 1964, after signing with Motown, that the Four Tops found commercial success. The Four Tops soon became one of Motown's first-string acts, the male version of the Supremes — like the Supremes, nearly all the Four Tops singles were written and produced by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. While the Temptations' main attraction was their smooth tenor singers, the Tops' lead singer is rough-voiced bass Levi Stubbs, who recorded many of the label's most impassioned vocals («Standing In The Shadows Of Love,» «Reach Out I'll Be There»). Motown's house band, always excellent, often outdid themselves on Four Tops songs (remember «Bernadette»?). The group left Motown in 1970, a couple of years after Holland-Dozier-Holland did, had a huge hit in 1972 with «Ain't No Woman (Like The One I've Got),» and is now on the oldies circuit: somehow the original lineup has managed to stick together all these years.
Half of this record, Reach Out, ranks with the best Motown produced in the 60's: perfectly realized, gripping pop hits include «Bernadette,» «Reach Out I'll Be There,» «Standing In The Shadows Of Love,» «7 Rooms Of Gloom» and «I'll Turn To Stone.» These aren't just catchy tunes with soulful vocals (though they are that), they're huge, ambitious pop productions. But most of the rest of the record is turned over to covers of the most white bread pop hits of the day: not one but two Monkees hits («I'm A Believer» and «Last Train To Clarksville»), the Association's «Cherish»… They managed to chart their versions of «If I Were A Carpenter» and the Left Banke's «Walk Away Renee.» I'd advise you to program your CD player to skip all those tracks, and focus on the Motown machine at its best. H-D-H tailor their material to the artists (no one else on the label could have sung «Bernadette» or «Reach Out» with the same conviction) and continue to experiment with song structure; the rhythm section is rock solid and continually interesting; the vocal performances are riveting.