Friday, October 17, 2008

R.I.P. Levi Stubbs

Front cover of their 1967 LP Reach Out

Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs, who possessed one of the most dynamic and emotive voices of all the Motown singers, died in his sleep today at the Detroit house he shared with his wife. He was 72.

With Stubbs in the lead, the Four Tops sold millions of records, including such hits as "Baby I Need Your Loving," "Reach Out (I'll Be There)" and "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.)"

The group performed for more than four decades without a single change in personnel. Stubbs' death leaves one surviving member of the original group: Abdul "Duke" Fakir.

Stubbs "fits right up there with all the icons of Motown," said Audley Smith, chief operating officer of the Motown Historical Museum. "His voice was as unique as Marvin's or as Smokey's or as Stevie's."

In the summer of 1967 I was 13, about to turn 14. I was growing up in Philadelphia, 3,000 miles from the intersection of Haight and Ashbury. That summer for me was the Summer of Motown. And above all other voices, the voice of Levi Stubbs stands out in my memory as the lead singer in the soundtrack of our lives.

It's funny, but the one song I can't find a video of on Youtube is perhaps their best, "Bernadette."

One song I did find however is Billy Bragg's brilliant "Levi Stubbs' Tears."

With the money from her accident
She bought herself a mobile home
So at least she could get some enjoyment
Out of being alone
No one could say that she was left up on the shelf
"It's you and me against the world kid" she mumbled to herself

When the world falls apart some things stay in place
Levi Stubbs' tears run down his face

She ran away from home on her mother's best coat
She was married before she was even entitled to vote
And her husband was one of those blokes
The sort that only laughs at his own jokes
The sort a war takes away
And when there wasn't a war he left anyway

Norman Whitfield and Barratt Strong
Are here to make everything right that's wrong
Holland and Holland and Lamont Dozier too
Are here to make it all okay with you

One dark night he came home from the sea
And put a hole in her body where no hole should be
It hurt her more to see him walking out the door
And though they stitched her back together they left her heart in pieces on the floor

When the world falls apart some things stay in place
She takes off the Four Tops tape and puts it back in its case
When the world falls apart some things stay in place
Levi Stubbs' tears...

At the 60's soul music blog, The In Crowd, there is a download link for the compilation album The Four Tops: The Ultimate Collection, and this description:

"The Ultimate Collection series was a rare success from Motown, one of the first of the label's many compilation series to do justice to some of the finest performers, arrangers, and musicians of the soul era. Nearly every artist with an entry was given the luxury treatment, with a disc-filling running time, excellent compilation decisions, and a pleasing design scheme that reflected the artists in their prime. The Four Tops' entry is arguably the best in the series, since the 25 tracks prove the perfect length to summarize the group's decade at Motown. From 1963 to 1972, the group reached the R&B charts 28 times."

Here's the download link. Enjoy, and rest in peace Levi.

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