(Written by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr.)
(Released in the UK under license through EMI/Stateside Records)
A nice, well-timed little reminder of just how magnificent the Tops could be, and that the noisy shambles of the A-side Without The One You Love (Life’s Not Worth While) was just a case of everyone involved having an off day.
I always thought the name “Four Tops” sounded more like a Fifties doo-wop group (which, of course, is what they started out as) than a Sixties R&B sensation, and so there’s a certain logic to hearing them do what appears to be an off-the-peg 6/8 barcarolle like this. But even when they’re tackling something that should be the absolute standard, rather humdrum doo-wop template, they still sound fresh, different from anyone else.
Levi Stubbs’ great gift – knowing precisely how far he could stray from the main melody line and do his own thing without irreparably damaging the tune – is in full force here, as it is on pretty much every Four Tops record, even the underwhelming A-side. Behind him and around him, the other three Tops (Duke, Lawrence and Obie) mix with the three Andantes (Jackie, Louvain and Marlene) and between them fill all the space on the record with their own sound, a sound piped direct from heaven.
It’s a new spin on the doo-wop blueprint, then, but it’s also different from the Temptations’ early records, which were full of eerie chord changes and otherwordly harmonising; instead, this is just pushing the envelope in a different direction, a direction that probably leads to Memphis if you keep going far enough.
Levi Stubbs gives yet another great lead vocal – yes, I’m aware this blog is turning into the Quarterly Journal of the Levi Stubbs Appreciation Society, but then who could really begrudge him? – all heart and throat and soul, mostly that last one. As the song spins and whirls gracefully all around him like teacups on a fairground ride, he’s a gritty anchor stopping the thing from blowing away, even as it’s him that seems to be soaring above the melody.
The song’s almost nothing – it’s wispy and difficult to grab, its only really memorable feature a big, crashing, descending three-chord run belted out heavily on piano and drums – Love – has – gone!. It’s the sound that makes this work, the sound of the Four Tops and the Andantes hooking it all up, turning base metal into gold. Even the most hackneyed, hoary old material could sound angelic in their hands, and so this – buffed up to a fine sheen by its writer-producers – turns out very well. Which makes me like Without The One You Love (Life’s Not Worth While) even less; if you’re the Four Tops, then pop music is seemingly a pretty simple game if you really put your mind to it.
MOTOWN JUNKIES VERDICT
(I’ve had MY say, now it’s your turn. Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment, or click the thumbs at the bottom there. Dissent is encouraged!)
You’re reading Motown Junkies, an attempt to review every Motown A- and B-side ever released. Click on the “previous” and “next” buttons below to go back and forth through the catalogue, or visit the Master Index for a full list of reviews so far.
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|The Four Tops
“Without The One You Love (Life’s Not Worth While)”
“How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”
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