Category: the four tops

On this day in music history: October 15, 1966 – “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by The Four Tops hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks, also topping the R&B singles chart for 2 weeks on October 29, 1966. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the second pop and R&B chart topper for the Detroit based vocal quartet. By 1966, Motown’s top production team Holland/Dozier/Holland are in the midst of a major hit streak, writing numerous smash hits for The Supremes, The Four Tops, and several other acts on the label. Around this time, the trio’s confidence is at an all time high, and they begin to experiment with their tried and true formula. Moving from simpler three and four chord songs, HDH start writing more complex songs, incorporating influences from different musical genres. One of those is “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, which merges the gospel influenced, soul stirring vocals of The Four Tops with classical song structure and unique rhythmic changes. When it comes time to cut the track, HDH are very firm about what they want from the musicians and vocalists, but also leave them room to improvise and bring their own unique magic to the proceedings. Recorded at Motown’s Studio A in mid 1966 with The Funk Brothers cutting the basic track, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is a showcase for James Jamerson’s virtuoso bass playing, laying down one of his most memorable and highly regarded performances.  The group record their vocals a short time  later, not thinking that the song will be anything more than just another album cut. Label founder Berry Gordy, Jr. calls the group into his office and tells them they are about to have the biggest hit of their career. When he tells them that it is “Reach Out”, The Four Tops are skeptical about the songs’ chances after the meeting. Motown releases it as a single on August 18, 1966, and within two weeks, the record is on nearly every major radio station in the US. Entering the Hot 100 at #82 on September 3, 1966, it swiftly climbs to the top of the chart seven weeks later. “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is also a major smash overseas, topping the UK singles chart for three weeks beginning on October 27, 1966. The single is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998. “Reach Out I’ll Be There” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: October 10, 1981 – “When She Was My Girl” by The Four Tops hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 2 weeks, also peaking at #11 on the Hot 100 on November 7, 1981. Written by Marc Blatte and Larry Gottleib, it is third and final R&B chart topper for the legendary vocal group. Newly signed to Casablanca Records in 1981, The Four Tops look to recapture the hit making pace of their post-Motown years at ABC/Dunhill Records during the 70’s. The track features prominent LA studio musicians Jeff Porcaro (drums), Nathan East (bass), David Williams, Carlos Rios, David Wolfert (guitars), Ralph Schuckett (melodica) and Billy Meyers (keyboards). Working with producer David Wolfert, the track is cut at Cherokee Studios in Los Angeles, CA in early 1981. The Four Tops baritone Renaldo “Obie” Benson adds the songs crowning touch when he improvises the “bom, bom, bom, bom, bom” vocal hook in the middle and at the end of the song. Issued as the first single from their twenty second studio album “Tonight!” in August of 1981, it gives The Four Tops their first major hit in nearly eight years. “When She Was My Girl” is the last major hit in the US for the veteran group. The Four Tops make the Top 40 on the Billboard 100 one final time with “Indestructible” (#35 Pop, #57 R&B) in October of 1988.

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On this day in music history: July 10, 1964 – “Baby I Need Your Loving” by The Four Tops is released. Written by Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, it is the fourth single release for the R&B vocal quartet from Detroit, MI. Originally known as The Four Aims when they’re formed in 1953, the group consists of Levi Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton. The group come together while they are students at Northern High School in Detroit, MI. They land their first recording contract with Chess Records in 1956, with the help of Payton’s cousin, songwriter Roquel “Billy” Davis. The group change their name to The Four Tops in order to avoid confusion with the vocal group The Ames Brothers. The Tops release the single “Kiss Me Baby” in May of 1956, but it not successful. Though popular as a live act, often opening for top artists including Billy Eckstine, The Four Tops are unable to land a hit record. Between 1960 and 1963, the group record more unsuccessful singles for Columbia, Red Top and Riverside Records. Finally, they catch a break later in 1963, when Roquel Davis introduces them to Berry Gordy, Jr., one of Davis’ songwriting partners and the founder of Motown Records. Gordy initially signs them to the labels’ Workshop Records imprint. They record a series of jazz standards, but are still hitless. Instead, the group work as background singers for other Motown artists, including The Supremes on their first top 40 hit “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”. Then The Four Tops are paired with The Supremes’ production team Holland Dozier Holland. Feeling they need to move in a more R&B and mainstream pop direction, HDH set about crafting a song suitable for The Tops. They quickly come up with “Baby I Need Your Loving”, after seeing the group perform at a local Detroit club. The song is recorded in May of 1964 at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit, with members of The Funk Brothers  including James Jamerson (bass), Benny Benjamin (drums), Robert White (guitar) and Earl Van Dyke (piano). Paul Riser adds the finishing touch by arranging the horns and strings on the track. The Four Tops add their vocals and the song is completed in short order. Released in the Summer of 1964, “Baby I Need Your Loving” becomes the elusive hit that Motown and The Four Tops have been looking for. “Baby” peaks at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 3, 1964, becoming their first million selling single. It is the first of sixteen pop and twenty five R&B top 40 hits, the group have with Motown. One of the evergreens in the Motown catalog, “Baby I Need Your Loving” is also covered by Johnny Rivers, Marvin Gaye (w/ Kim Weston and Tammi Terrrell), O.C. Smith, Mitch Ryder, Checkmates, Ltd., Eric Carmen, and Carl Carlton to name a few.

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On this day in music history: July 5, 1965 – The Four Tops record “It’s The Same Old Song” at Motown Studio A in Detroit, MI. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the second pop, and third R&B top ten hit for the R&B vocal quartet. In early July of 1965, Motown hears that Columbia Records is re-releasing “Ain’t That Love”, a single the group recorded in 1960 (while briefly signed to the label), in an attempt to capitalize on the success of the group’s recent number one smash “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”. Wasting no time at all, Berry Gordy summons the troops into action, to come up with a quick follow up to combat the rival release. HDH cleverly re-write “I Can’t Help Myself”, changing the chords around and giving it the wry and ironic title “It’s The Same Old Song”. The instrumental track featuring The Funk Brothers providing musical backing is quickly cut in just a handful of takes. The Four Tops are hustled into the studio to add their vocals a short time later (with additional background vocals by The Andantes). Within a couple of hours, the initial mixes of the song are completed. An engineer hand cuts 1500 acetate copies of the new single, while the lacquers are delivered to American Record Pressing in Owosso, MI for the first commercial copies to be pressed. By 3 pm the next day, acetate copies of “It’s The Same Old Song” are in the hands of prominent DJ’s around the country, and is immediately added to station playlists. The label has copies of the single shipped to record stores by Friday, July 9, 1965. The single is the highest new entry on the Hot 100 at #54 on July 31, 1965, while “Ain’t That Love” enters the chart the same week at #93. “Love” falls of the chart the following week, while “It’s The Same Old Song” soars to #5 on the Hot 100 on August 28, 1965, and #2 on the R&B singles chart on August 21, 1965.

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On this day in music history: June 19, 1965 – “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” by The Four Tops hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks (non-consecutive), also topping the R&B singles chart for 9 weeks on June 5, 1965. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the first chart topping single for the Detroit based R&B vocal quartet. The writing and production team Holland/Dozier/Holland take inspiration from one of their previous hits when they write “I Can’t Help Myself”. The Supremes number one smash “Where Did Our Love Go?” being the song in question. HDH use same chords while writing it, changing the progression around and writing a completely different melody over those chords. Released on April 23, 1965, “I Can’t Help Myself storms the pop and R&B charts quickly. Entering the Hot 100 at #67 on May 15, 1965, it rockets to the top of the chart five weeks later. Ironically, or perhaps not so much, The Four Tops single replaces The Supremes’ "Back In My Arms Again” at number one on both the pop and R&B singles charts, also written and produced by HDH. After its first week on top, the single is temporarily bumped from the top by The Byrds “Mr. Tambourine Man” on June 26, 1965, but returns to the top for a second week on July 3, 1965. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” becomes one of The Four Tops signature songs, and one of many in this era that come to define “The Motown Sound”. “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 2018.

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Born on this day: June 6, 1936 – Four Tops lead vocalist Levi Stubbs (born Levi Stubbles in Detroit, MI). Happy Birthday to this R&B vocal legend on what would have been his 83rd Birthday.

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The Four Tops playing basketball in New York City, 1965.

The Four Tops on set of the TV show Hullabaloo in 1965.

On this day in music history: November 28, 1966 – “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” by The Four Tops is released. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the fifteenth single release from the legendary Motown vocal quartet fronted by lead singer Levi Stubbs. Having just scored their biggest pop hit ever with the instant classic “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, The Four Tops’ primary writers and producers Holland Dozier Holland begin working on the follow up before the former hits number one on October 15, 1966. Throwing ideas around, HDH who are masters at reworking their own songs, shoot to come up with something that is reminiscent of the groups’ previous hit, but distinguishing it with its own unique character. The trio start with the title “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”, which in itself is a reworking of an obscure 1963 Supremes B-side titled “Standing At The Crossroads Of Love” (B-side of “When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”). And as they had done with “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”, rewriting it as “It’s The Same Old Song”, HDH take many of the same chord changes from “Reach Out I’ll Be There” for “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”. For the lyrics, primary lyricist Eddie Holland writes a narrative of the songs’ protagonist bracing himself for the impending loss of his girlfriend, who he senses is on the verge of leaving him. With the lyrics complete, the trio waste no time getting into the studio to the record the song. The basic track is recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit on October 10, 1966, with The Funk Brothers providing the musical backing. With The Four Tops themselves in the midst of a very busy touring schedule, are hustled into the studio when they are able to come home to Detroit. The groups’ vocals are overdubbed at Motown’s Studio B (Golden World Studios) on October 19, 1966, with Motown’s in-house background vocalists The Andantes adding their vocals, and orchestration from the Detroit Symphony overdubbed at other sessions in late October. Mixed and mastered by early November, the single is ready to be released. Like its predecessor, “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” is another immediate hit, peaking at #2 on the Billboard R&B singles chart on January 28, 1967 and #6 on the Hot 100 on January 21, 1967. One of The Four Tops’ best known, loved and frequently covered songs, “Standing” also is revised to become the title of a critically acclaimed book and documentary film about The Funk Brothers titled “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown”.

On this day in music history: November 13, 1965 – “The Four Tops’ Second Album” by The Four Tops is released. Produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, it is recorded at Motown Studio A in Detroit, MI from Spring – Summer 1965. Following the success of The Four Tops breakthrough hits “Baby I Need Your Loving” (#11 Pop), “Ask The Lonely” (#9 R&B, #24 Pop), and their self-titled debut album, they continue their run of hits with their next album. The second full length release from the group includes three of their most recent hits including the chart topping “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”, “It’s The Same Old Song” (#2 R&B, #5 Pop), and “Something About You” (#9 R&B, #19 Pop). Originally released in mono and stereo in 1965, the mono edition is discontinued after 1968, with the stereo edition remaining in print on vinyl until the late 1980’s. The album has been remastered and reissued by Universal Music in Japan in 2012 as a limited edition SHM-CD, in a mini-LP sleeve replicating the original art work. “The Four Tops’ Second Album” peaks at number three on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number twenty on the Top 200.