February 15, 2007

February's Record You Should Own

In the 1960s, there was James Brown, the Godfather of Soul...and his four godchildren, who spread the word of righteous soul music: Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett...and Levi Stubbs.

But who is Levi Stubbs? you ask. He was the lead singer of the Four Tops, one of the more underappreciated (in my opinion) groups that came out of Motown. Want proof? Then check out the Four Tops 50th Anniversary Anthology, which is this month's "Record You Should Own."

Ah, but Gordon, you ask in an almost Greg-ian manner, Isn't Motown a little too overexposed?. Ok, in the 1980s you couldn't move without hearing some old Motown song used in a commercial, but the Four Tops were somehow...different. Considering that Motown was a major source of influence in the 1960s (not just in terms of sound, or adapting mass production techniques to pop music, but being owned by an African American in a racially turbulent time), the fact remains that the Four Tops never seemed to get their due, with Levi Stubb's yearning, strong-yet-restrained vocals never crossed into melancholy or cheap sentimentality (yes, I'm talking to you, Michael Bolton) and the other Tops' harmonies serving to bolster that strength.

Don't believe me? Check out "Bernadette", which makes Holland-Dozier-Holland's song of dedication sound almost like addiction. Or the classic "Reach Out, I'll Be There", which Phil Spector once remarked sounded like "Black Dylan". Or even the ABC-Casablanca tunes on side two, after the Tops left Motown, which is rather consistent. Plus, this collection even contains the Oscar-nominated "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space" from this movie. All in all, an extremely consistent collection.

Unfortunately, the Four Tops have not fared well in recent years, as Wikipedia reveals - however, if you're looking to expand your musical palate, or want to have a little taste of Motown, this collection will not do you wrong.

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