Review: THE TEMPTATIONS AND THE FOUR TOPS at McCoy Center For The Arts

Vocal groups are more than just nostalga

By: Jun. 13, 2024
Review: THE TEMPTATIONS AND THE FOUR TOPS at McCoy Center For The Arts
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Two questions almost immediately sprang up when people were told that the Temptations and The Four Tops were performing June 11 at the Jeanne B. McCoy Center for the Arts in New Albany. People asked, Those two groups are still around? and How many of the original members are left?

Dr. Otis Williams (82 years old) of the Temptations and Abdul “Duke” Fakir (88) of The Four Tops are the last survivors of the vocal groups that dominated the Motown scene in the 1960s. Yet, the June 11 performance was not some cheap facsimile or an exercise in nostalgia of a bygone era. In their three hour concert, the two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame groups simply added to their legacy and entertained those who may not have witnessed the groups when they were in their prime.

“(My bandmates Terry Weeks, Tony Grant, Jawan M. Jackson, and Ron Tyson), would like me to tell you I’m 82 years old,” Williams said as the sold-out 786-person auditorium roared in approval. “I’m going to keep riding this horse and when I get off, the horse is going to be bald.

“I never thought I’d be a part of a 60th anniversary album. I’m glad to be part of something that is going to outlast us all.”

Williams, who has been a part of the Temptations for all 60 years, is the only surviving member of the Classic Five arrangement of the group:  Williams, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, and David Ruffin. Franklin, who died in 1995, had been in the group for 34 years. Williams (who died in 1973) and Kendricks (who died in 1992) were in the band for 11 years, and Ruffin (who died in 1991), was only in the band for four years.

Weeks, Grant, Jackson, and Tyson (who have been a part of the Temptations for a combined total of 83 years) have been members of the vocal group nearly two decades longer than the classic line-up. In fact, take the tenure of each member of the Temptations (143) and add it to the number of years each member of the current alignment of The Four Tops (120), that total would equal 263 years. To put that in perspective, that time line is 15 years older than the Declaration of Independence.

(By contrast, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Woods have been together for a combined total of 173 years, which would take their timeline back to the publication of MOBY DICK in 1851.)

Neither the Tempts nor the Tops acted their age June 11. The Tempts showcased their tight choreography and vocal harmonies. After opening the show with “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” the group rolled through a catalogue of chartbusters like “Get Ready,” “The Way You Do The Things You Do,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” and “Just My Imagination” before closing the night with the Temptations’ national anthem, “My Girl.”

Cemented among the hits were classics like “A Ball Of Confusion,” “Since I Lost My Baby,” and a powerful reading of “I Wish It Would Rain.”

Before performing the coda to the evening, Jackson, a booming bass who came to the group from the Tony Award-Winning Broadway musical, AIN’T TOO PROUD: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE TEMPTATIONS, proudly announced “My Girl” had been streamed over a billion times worldwide.

Near the end of the evening, Williams reflected on just how grateful he is to the fans who made Motown a huge success and who keep the group’s legacy growing.

“Detroit had always been known for Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler … and Motown,” he said. “In the turbulent 60s, the music that came out of Motown was like a soothing ointment for a troubled soul.

“You know who the real stars are? It’s not The Four Tops. It’s not the Temptations. It’s not even Taylor Swift. It’s you guys. When you heard we were coming and decided ‘I’d like to see that,’ you had to leave the comforts of your home and drive on these crazy streets to see us. That makes you the stars. We want to say thank you for coming out and giving us that support.”

*Abdul “Duke” Fakir, whose Four Tops opened the June 11 concert, knows every day is a gift. The original Four Tops of Fakir, Levi Stubbs, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and Lawrence Payton were supposed to be on Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988. The four canceled their flight because of a conflict with a recording studio.

In the last two years, Fakir and current Four Top, Alexander Morris have battled serious health problems. Ronnie McNeir, another member of the group, is saddled from this tour with health problems and had to be replaced by Terry Horn.

“You don’t realize how lucky we are to hear this guy sing,” Roquel Payton Jr said, pointing to Fakir. “Last year, he was intubated and in a hospital bed. We thought we’d never see him again.”

“God is good,” Fakir added with a smile.

Perhaps that is why The Four Tops were able to put on such a light, breezy performance. Their choreography wasn’t as tight as the Temptations, but what Fakir, Morris, Horn, and Payton Jr. lacked in dance moves, they made up for in stage presence.

The four had a way of making each person feel like The Four Tops were performing just for them as they pulled out a selection of songs from “The Big Chill” era of Motown.

The Four Tops took the stage to “Baby, I Need Your Loving” and reeled through a host of classics including “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Shake Me, Wake Me,” “Ain’t No Woman Like The One I Got,” and “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” before closing their hour-long set with “I Can’t Help Myself.”

Fakir also celebrated a couple of the Four Top misfires and missed opportunities.

In his introduction to “I Believe In You and Me,” he said, “We wrote this song many years ago and we thought it was going to be one of our greatest hits. It didn’t quite make it to that category but we knew it was a great, great song.

“A few years later, along comes Whitney Houston. She makes this song (a huge hit).”

The Four Tops’ version barely hit the top 40 of the Billboard R&B charts. Houston included the song into the soundtrack for her movie, “The Preacher’s Wife” and it cracked the number five spot on the pop charts.

 “Before we get to it, I just want to say, ‘Whitney, we did it first,’” Fakir said with a chuckle.

The Tops also included a stirring version of “What’s Going On?,” Marvin Gaye’s Civil Rights anthem. Benson wrote the song with Al Cleveland after witnessing the “Bloody Thursday” clash between students and police in Berkeley. Benson said he originally presented the song to the Tops but the group was reluctant to do a protest song. He then gave the song to Gaye and it was ranked fourth in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998. The band also did a cover of Bobby Darin’s “Mack The Knife.”

While every day might be considered a gift for Williams and Fakir, every concert is a present that fans get to open.

 



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