Another great song that has two definitive versions, IMO. Also, here are the first two entities that have two songs each on this list.
“Real Thing” has been bastardized a bit by being overused in commercials. It’s a testament to Nick, Val, Marvin and Tammi that the overexposure hasn’t lessened its classic status. To me, this version feels warm, and comfortable; two lovers basking in a relationship that’s solid as a rock (sorry, had to.) They may be apart for a short while, but they know “the real thing” is there.
The J5′s version comes from a much more wistful place. The lyric change of “ain’t nothing like the real thing” to “so glad we got the real thing” at the end of Marvin & Tammi’s recording is absent here. Another clear difference is that Marvin and Tammi are singing to one another. Michael and Jermaine are singing to…the same girl? Different girls? Hell, they _could_ be singing to one another, turning Ashford & Simpson’s dedication of romantic love to one of brotherly loyalty…which makes the pathos of this particular rendition unsettling…especially in light of the long-running discord that occurred between Michael and Jermaine for the last 20 or so years of the former’s life.
Also worth noting from a production standpoint- the original version of “Real Thing” is one of the last Motown classics to have that signature Funk Brothers sound. The J5′s version is a bit more indebted to Thom Bell and Philly soul. The arrangement is made a bit more lush and the tempo is slowed down a couple of steps.