When we look back on popular music, we will always debate certain qualities that are subjective: Who was the best guitarist? The best band? The best album or song?
I’m here to debate who was the best vocal group ever based on a few criteria.
For my search I have narrowed it down to two groups; both are Motown artists known as some of the smoothest groups ever to grace popular music. I’m talking about the Temptations and the Four Tops.
Using three criteria—range, harmony and the lead vocalist’s talent—I will make my decision about who was the best group. You can make your own decision, and I will not disagree with you, as both were are undoubtedly great.
RANGE: This one goes to the Temptations, only because of two men. Paul Williams was a once-in-a-lifetime talent, a baritone who could sing every part and was light on his feet, too. His own versatility was what created the Temptations and what defined them until his untimely death in 1973.
The other reason that they win this portion is Melvin Franklin, who was arguably the greatest bass singer in the history of popular music. “Blue” as Franklin was called, was always the backbone and baseline of the group, keeping them in time as well as handling lead when needed.
The Four Tops were great, but their range wasn’t quite as good as the Temptations’. Without a true bass singer, they fall just short.
LEAD SINGER: When we start thinking of this criterion, we have to choose a Temptation lead singer. They had many great singers; Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards were all great leads, but let’s go to their most famous face, David Ruffin for this comparison. He matches up with the Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs.
Ruffin was a gruff singer who brought emotion into the song better than just about anyone. His high tenor rasp was the epitome of love ballad in the late 1960s, and his image of the tender, bespectacled singer has transcended throughout the country.
As great as he was though, he cannot beat Levi Stubbs. The crooning tenor who sang lead his entire life, was simply one of the greatest lead singers ever. His tone was so clean, and his ability to hit just about any note was second to none. Without him the Four Tops probably wouldn’t have the legacy they have now. This battle goes to the Tops.
HARMONY: With each side having one victory, this one decides the winner–and it couldn’t be a harder category. Here we have arguably the two greatest harmonizing groups ever, and this decision could go either way.
The Four Tops had the perfect blend of voices between Obie Benson, Lawrence Payton, Duke Fakir and Stubbs, which created some sweet melodies and some of the greatest songs ever. Just listen to “Reach Out I’ll Be There” or “It’s the Same Old Song” to see how great their harmonies were.
The Temptations’ blend was just as perfect, but a little different because of all their lineup changes and their range. With Eddie Kendricks’ extremely high tenor and Melvin Franklin’s deep bass, they could cover just about all notes, and that was key for them. Great examples include “Beauty is Only Skin Deep” and “(I Know) I’m Losing You.”
This one was close, too, but I’m going to give the Temptations the title of greatest vocal group because of their range and their ability to keep their sound despite numerous lineup changes. The Four Tops were incredible, unfortunately they fall just short. Both deserve this title and should go down as two of the greatest groups of all time.
Wendlandt is a sophomore broadcast news major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org