I am doing single-row panoramas with just the ordinary bottom pan on the head. This seems fine, at least with objects 10 feet or more away from camera. I haven't tried multiple-row panoramas (baby steps first). When and why do people use "top pan"-capable quick-release clamps?
When you also use a No-Parallax-Point (NPP) slider, to slide the lens entrance pupil into the position of the (usually vertical) axis which one rotates around to avoid parallax, the top rotation is paramount. Otherwise you might as well rotate around the ordinary bottom pan.
As you say, subjects at a distance are less critical (and wider angle lenses as well), but when recognizable/structured foreground detail is involved, doing things right becomes important enough to spend some money on. It's usually not possible to go back and reshoot situations, so one might as well get it right the first time.