American Music

ALBUM (1965)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 May, 2010, 12:00am

Four Tops' Second Album
Four Tops
(Motown)

The Four Tops hold the distinction of maintaining the same line-up for the longest stretch in rock'n'roll history: 41 harmonious years (1956-1997). And to date the quartet have sold more than 50 million albums and singles.

They had an inspirational sound: lead vocalist Levi Stubbs sang with the burning conviction of a preacher on a mission to spread the gospel of sweet soul music. And the tunes were touched by the hand of God - or the next best thing in mid-1960s Detroit, composed by Motown's Holland-Dozier-Holland hit-writing team.

With their hits, collective star quality and vocal talent, the Four Tops were perceived as one of the quintessential Motown bands, along with The Supremes (with whom they recorded an album), and The Temptations. Indeed, Stubbs, Abdul Fakir, Lawrence Payton, and Renaldo Benson were natives of the city that gave rise to the Motown name: Detroit.

Urban soul legend has it that they first met while singing at a friend's birthday party in 1954, set up the band and was signed to Chess Records soon after. They went nowhere for a while, until they moved to Motown in 1963. With the label behind them, they swiftly gained popularity. Their first Motown album was fairly well received, with the gorgeous first hit, Baby I Need Your Loving.

The only thing wrong with Four Tops' Second Album is its lazy title. This brightly produced triumph is home to three of their greatest singles: I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), the stirring Something About You, and the infectious It's the Same Old Song. The latter sounds a lot like I Can't Help Myself, but, in the days when Holland-Dozier-Holland were penning smashes at a rate of about one a week, nobody minded.

Blessed with catchy melodies and pleasing call-and-response lyrics, the album established the Four Tops as one of the most appealing R&B groups ever.

The magic of It's the Same Old Song re-emerged about two decades later, in the Coen brother's 1985 movie debut, Blood Simple. In this film noir, the number foreshadows the dread and inevitability of the lead character making the same ghastly mistake again and again and again. And so Blood Simple brought a whole new audience to the Four Tops.

The Four Tops' Second Album in its entirely is a memorable original soundtrack - a euphoric sound that matched an era of social revolution and emancipation and a blossoming of pop culture that took the old guard by surprise. Suddenly Stubbs' urgent baritone replaced Frank Sinatra's urbane crooning on the radio, and the 60s had arrived in earnest.