Though they've never enjoyed the big reputation of the Temptations or the O'Jays, the Manhattans have nearly as many great records in their past. With their clockwork choreography, lushly meshed vocals and first-rate material, the Manhattans rank as the top male harmony group in soul today. Opening for Gladys Knight & the Pips at Constitution Hall Saturday night, the Manhattans glided through their hits--plus a doo-wop relic and a gospel hymn--with consummate style.

The dance moves never stopped--even when they sat on stools; the quartet's three 19-year veterans cooed softly behind lead singer Gerald Alston's laments of love lost and exclamations of love found. The show climaxed with flawless, exhilarating versions of "Kiss and Say Goodbye," "Shining Star" and "Crazy," as fine a threesome of soul hits as you'll ever find.

As good as Gladys Knight & the Pips are on record, they are twice as good live. Saturday night, Knight broke free from the pop constraints of the studio to belt out her hits with an enormous sound and an emotional release that were learned in an Atlanta church and that still sounded vital after 25 years in show business.

When she shouted improvised cries of "His World! My World!" over the tag of "Midnight Train to Georgia," she gave the song a whole new dimension. Her shuddering, feverish climax notes transformed the melodramatic ballad "And I Tell You I'm Not Leaving" into intense drama. The Pips were as smooth as ever with Gladys' brother Bubba Knight shining as a flashy dancer and a comic showman.