Trying To Get To You

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thoughts On the Four Tops and Levi Stubbs

For me, the time to listen to the Four Tops was always at night, alone and in the dark. Their sound, possibly more than any Motown act, was the sound of yearning and longing, sometimes with a happy ending, sometimes not. But it was also the sound of companionship and friendship – hearing Levi Stubbs’s voice was the sound of knowing that while you may have been experiencing loneliness, you’re weren't alone in feeling it. That’s something.

When I heard that Levi Stubbs died last week, the first word that I thought of about him and the Tops was “dependable.” That may seem like faint praise, but it’s not - far from it. They music always occurred for me as a stalwart friend, and if they lacked the flash of Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and a couple of others, their greatest songs, “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There,” “Ask The Lonely,” “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)” and “Baby I Need Your Loving,” are testaments to the to eternal power of warmth, openheartedness, friendship and love. To have survived with their original members intact for over 40 years, they had to do more than just sing about those values. They had to do something far more challenging – they had to actually be them. And they were.

Levi’s voice and the Four Tops songs are so ingrained in our cultural DNA that for some, they may sound cliché. But the next time you’re home, late at night by yourself, put “Baby I Need Your Loving,” on, real loud. Get present to the beauty of it – the arrangement, the rhythm, the strings and the backing “ooohs.” But most of all, listen to Levi Stubbs. Hear the longing, the intensity, the vulnerability and strength side by side of one other. When you do, you’ll get that Levi Stubbs’s was one of the greatest singers we’ve ever been lucky to have.

8 comments:

Benoit (from Brussels) said...

the performance Levi Stubbs and the 3 other Tops did together with the Temptations for Motown's 25th anniversary in 1982 or 1983 was something like a masterpiece : fake competition with Dennis Edwards, real talent from both parts, fun and big pleasure...

he's another great soul singers who's disappeared... and we're gonna miss him...

Randy said...

Whereas Otis Redding sweated or Wilson Pickett strutted, Levi Stubbs made it look easy. He shared the spotlight gracefully and kept the music pure.

Rush said...

u think we can ever revive music to its soul?

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