An exhaustive overview… sometimes classic, sometimes confounding.
Daryl Easlea 2009
The Four Tops and The Supremes were the epitome of the glamour end of Motown – huge hit makers, enormously popular yet never quite basking in the critical acclaim of Stevie Wonder, The Temptations or Marvin Gaye.
When Diana Ross left the Supremes in January 1970, many were ready to write the group off. But her place was ably filled by Jean Terrell, and the hits continued. As The Supremes, with Ross, had recorded two albums of duets with The Temptations, it was deemed time to recreate the magic with the label’s other leading vocal group, the Four Tops. The pairing was successful – three albums were made in quick succession in 1970 and 1971. Unsurprisingly, The Complete Studio Duets brings them all together, along with a further 12 outtakes.
The Magnificent 7 was a strong debut in September 1970, and it became a UK Top 10 album in early 1971. Their spirited rendition of River Deep, Mountain High reached the Top 20. If you have ever felt that the Ike and Tina Turner version is tad overcooked, then this is an extremely convincing alternative.
Its follow up, The Return of the Magnificent 7, continues the theme of well-produced covers while the final pairing, Dynamite, is the most interesting yet the most schizophrenic. Produced by Frank Wilson and Bobby Taylor, it ups the quotient of contemporary grooves (such as Stephen Stills’ Love the One You’re With), but the schmaltz is ladled on even thicker with versions of the Perry Como hit It’s Impossible and Bread’s If.
As a double set, The Complete Studio Duets veers between the classic (a great version of Sly and The Family Stone’s Everyday People, a spirited Hello Stranger and a zesty Gimme Some Lovin’) and the confounding (a soupy Call Me, A Taste of Honey) and highlights the dilemma Motown was having about moving forward in the progressive era.
Put together with Hip-O’s customary care, excellent annotation and crystal clear sound, The Complete Studio Duets, while hardly an essential example of Motown’s output, is remarkable if only to highlight the strength of the vocal pairing of Terrell and the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs.