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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
On this day in music history: February 16, 1967 – “Bernadette” by The Four Tops is released. Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, it is the fourteenth single release for the legendary Motown vocal quartet. A virtual three man hit factory on their own, the songwriting and production team known as Holland/Dozier/Holland are at peak of their creative powers by the middle of 1966. Having already turned out numerous hits for many of Motown’s artists including The Supremes, Martha & The Vandellas and The Miracles, to name a few, the trio works some of their greatest musical magic with The Four Tops. The initial idea for “Bernadette” comes from Lamont Dozier, inspired by the unrequited love he has for a girl he knew when he was twelve years old, but being too shy to talk to her. Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland add additional pathos and drama to the songs narrative, with the man being obsessive and jealous when he sees that other men covet her as well. Finishing up the song, HDH know instinctively that “Bernadette” is perfect for The Four Tops. The basic track is recorded at Motown’s Studio A in Detroit in the Summer of 1966, with The Funk Brothers providing musical support as usual. The Four Tops add their vocals to the track soon after, featuring one of lead singer Levi Stubbs’ most impassioned vocals ever committed to tape. Motown’s in house background vocal group The Andantes also provide additional backing vocals. Released right on the heels of their previous single “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”, “Bernadette” is an other instant smash for The Four Tops. Entering the Billboard Hot 100 at #65 on March 11, 1967 and #37 on the R&B singles chart on March 18, 1967, the single races up both charts simultaneously. “Bernadette” peaks at #4 on the Hot 100 on April 8, 1967, and #3 on the R&B chart on April 15, 1967. Along with their previous two hit singles, “Bernadette” is included on The Four Tops next album “Reach Out” released in July of 1967, widely regarded as one of their best. In 2002, an instrumental mix of “Bernadette” is included on the soundtrack to The Funk Brothers documentary “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown”.
On this day in music history: January 5, 1965 – “Ask The Lonely” by The Four Tops is released. Written and produced by William “Mickey” Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter, it is the sixth single for the legendary Motown vocal quartet. Having made their major breakthrough in mid 1964 with the Holland/Dozier/Holland penned classic “Baby I Need Your Loving” (#11 Pop), The Four Tops once again work with the prolific songwriting and production team on the follow up single. Titled “Without The One You Love (Life’s Not Worth While)”, the song is released on November 4, 1964, and performs underwhelmingly, stalling outside the top 40 at #43. Not wanting the Tops to lose momentum on the charts, Motown quickly springs into action. Staff producers Mickey Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter, at the time best known for co-writing the smash “Dancing In The Street”, have written a song titled “Ask The Lonely”. “Lonely” is originally slated for a recent Motown signee named Tommy Good, a white pop singer who the label is grooming for potential stardom. Originally recorded in July of 1964, the track is reassigned to The Four Tops, who overdub their vocals in either late November or early December of 1964. Featuring The Funk Brothers providing musical support with a sweeping string arrangement written by Paul Riser and performed by members of The Detroit Symphony, the labels’ in house background vocalists The Andantes also provide additional vocals on the track. The melancholy ballad featuring Levi Stubbs’ highly emotional lead vocal leaves no doubt that it will be a hit. Quickly approved by Motown’s Quality Control department, it is released less than a week after the new year in 1965. “Ask The Lonely” enters the Billboard R&B singles chart at #33 and the Hot 100 at #75 on February 6, 1965. The single peaks at #9 on the R&B chart and #24 on the Hot 100 on March 13, 1965. With “Ask The Lonely” firming up The Four Tops’ status as hit makers, the group begin a virtual non-stop streak of major hits, garnering a dozen pop and seventeen R&B top 40 singles over the next two and a half years. Over the years, “Ask The Lonely” has been covered by numerous artists including Billy Eckstine, Vonda Shepard, The Jackson 5, The Fantastics and an instrumental version by Stevie Wonder in a medley with “Never My Love” on his 1968 album “Eivets Rednow”.