There is really no way I can prove to anyone under the age of thirty (and please, that is stretching it a lot) how much of an impact “the motown sound” had on those of us who lived during those times. Some may say that the output of Stax and Atlantic records came close, but really it was never a contest. Even Issac Hayes, who at that time, was a driving force behind Stax Records admitted that in effect, they always had a ear pointed up “north” to see and hear just what was next out of the (Detroit based) Motown stable. Even now, when I listen to one of Diana Ross and the Supreams first hits, “Stop! (In The Name of Love”) it’s lyricism still knocks me dead. The opening line, “Baby, Baby I’m aware of where you go.. Each time you leave my door, I watch you walk down the street..”
Where to start! First off, the use of the world “Aware” in the song. Today the supposed cream of the crop of the writers today, would just say “I know where you go” and work from there. You have to remember that these records were for the black community first, but Berry Gordy (the owner of Motown) would not allow it’s talent to “Write down” another example, “Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson.. He writes, “Just like “Pagliacci did” excuse my french, but who in the hell is that? An opera reference? In music written by and for Afro Americans in the early 1960’s?
Over the years I started to listen less to the major Motown hits from the Supremes and the Temptations as they were played over and over again on radio and used in movies and commericals. If I never heard “My Girl” again, that would be all right with me. My love however, still remained with the lesser hits by less popular acts like Bobby and the Vancouvers, Rare Earth, and others. Except for one group and now with the recent Death of Levi Stubbs, once again I’m reminded of that one group that after all of these years, I never get tired of.
I wrote part of this post a year back when I had heard that Stubbs was ailing and was not expected to come back to sing with Tops again. Around the same time about 2 years ago I had a ticket to see the Four Tops act and found myself walking out because the only one out of the original four was on the stage. Two of the members had already passed on and Stubbs had just had his first stroke. this is not meant to be a “downer” post but after seeing that I knew how much this group had impressed themselves on my life and times
My favorite group in the Motown stable has been always been the Four Tops. The Temptations had the flash and the moves, but the “Tops” had the Talent. The “Temps” were singing for the popular kids. When they would sing “Beauty’s only Skin Deep” you knew that no matter what the song said, in time ole Dave Ruffin (their first and best lead) would be right back in front of a “pretty face” Or when they sang “Can’t get Next to You” You knew that this was one bad girl if Dennis ( the replacement) couldn’t impress her with his smooth dance moves and cool demeanor. They sang the songs of those who up to that point in time, were getting the attention of any boy/girl they wanted except for the one they wanted. They sang from the standpoint of those who never tasted heartbreak until now. The Tops were different; they sang for the rest of us, those of us who worshiped the girls from afar those who were lucky to get a “Bernadette” to love us. We lived in abject fear that she would be torn away at any moment from us by better men. The world the Four Tops sang about was a world that was rendered in “shades of grey” until she shows up and then you are transported into a “Different World” The Tops were sensitive before it was cool. As they were not afraid to say “baby, I need your loving.” The Tops sang to people who were always ready to tell you about those short shifted in love (“Ask the Lonely”) and of course, they were loyal… (“Reach Out-I’ll Be There”) The Temps, at times may have stopped in this world that the Tops ruled (“Don’t look back”) but they could never stay there. Not with the level of confidence they had… They told Diana and her cohorts, “I’m Gonna Make You love me” Years later when it became the Tops turn to woo Motown’s favorite girl act, all they could promise was “be as faithful as that puppy”( in River Deep, Mountain High) The Four Tops as Everyman… Just like you and me.
Good bye Levi.. You and the “Tops” will be missed Fourever
Next: The Black Man’s guide to surving an Afro American President
After That: Uncle J explains in all for you and is taking questions
Then: You Must Read This!