Posts Tagged ‘Four Tops’

Saturday Single No. 151

June 1, 2022

Originally posted October 3, 2009

While wandering around Facebook the other evening, I ran across one of those quizzes that pop up now and then on the site. My cousin Mark had tried his hand at a music trivia quiz that asked who sang what song in the year 1970. I forget how many of the ten songs in the quiz he’d paired with the right performer, but he’d done pretty well, he said in the attached note, for someone who was born in the mid-1960s.

I clicked the link and headed into the quiz to see how I could do. The year 1970 holds a prime place in my days of listening to Top 40. I began that exploration – as I’ve noted before – in the late summer and autumn of 1969. I started shifting away from Top 40 and into album rock during my college years, which began in the fall of 1971. That leaves 1970 as the one year during which I was really listening to Top 40 radio all year long. Given that, I would have been disappointed in myself if I’d missed a question in the quiz. I didn’t. And as I headed out of the quiz page back to Facebook, I thought that some kind of look at 1970 would be a good idea for a Saturday post.

So this morning, I pulled out the Billboard Hot 100 for the week ending October 3, 1970, the chart from thirty-nine years ago today, and I thought I’d sort through the Top 40 to see which record showed the most movement from the chart of a week earlier.

Before starting, it might be good to look at the Top Ten from that date:

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross“
Lookin’ Out My Back Door/Long As I Can See The Light” by Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Candida” by Dawn
“Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond
“Julie, Do Ya Love Me” by Bobby Sherman
“I’ll Be There” by the Jackson 5
“(I Know I’m) Losing You” by Rare Earth
“Snowbird” by Anne Murray
“War” by Edwin Starr
“All Right Now” by Free

That’s a pretty decent Top Ten, though over the years – for me at least – neither the Diana Ross nor the Anne Murray single has aged well. We’ll get back to a few of those as we look at how the Top 40 shifted.

Four records shifted up four places from the week before. Candi Staton’s cover of “Stand By Your Man” made it into the chart, moving from No. 44 to No. 40. “El Condor Pasa” by Simon & Garfunkel went from No. 38 to No. 34. Grand Funk Railroad’s first hit, “Closer to Home,” went from No. 31 to No. 27. And the afore-mentioned “Candida” moved from No. 7 to No. 3.

Two records shifted five spots. Glenn Campbell’s “It’s Only Make Believe” rose from No. 37 to No. 32, and Tom Jones’ “I (Who Have Nothing)” dropped from No. 14 to No. 19. And two records moved up six spaces: “Somebody’s Been Sleeping” by 100 Proof Aged In Soul went from No. 43 to No. 36 while “Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night moved from No. 30 to No. 24.

Three records fell seven spots: Edwin Starr’s “War” dropped from No. 2 to No. 9, Clarence Carter’s “Patches” went from No. 4 to No. 11, and “25 or 6 to 4” by Chicago fell from No. 10 to No. 17.

When I do one of these chart-movement posts (and I’ve only done a few, admittedly), this is about the spot where things start to narrow down. It seems – without doing any research at all – that not that many songs move more than seven spots during the same week. Well, the week ending October 3, 1970, was the week that would wreck that theory. A total of thirteen records – almost one-third of the Top 40 – shifted more than seven spots thirty-nine years ago this week.

One record moved eight spots. That was “Look What They’ve Done To My Song Ma” by the New Seekers, which rose from No. 33 to No. 25. Shifting nine places was “It’s A Shame” by the Spinners, rising from No. 24 to No. 15. And moving up ten places was James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” which rose from No. 40 to No. 30.

Two records rose eleven places: “Express Yourself” by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band went from No. 25 to No. 14, and “Do What You Wanna Do” by Five Flights Up (the only record in this Top 40 I’ve never heard, as far as I know) entered the Top 40 with a leap, jumping from No. 50 to No. 39.

The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” moved up thirteen places, from No. 19 to No. 6; also moving thirteen spots was “Rubber Duckie” by Ernie, which dropped from No. 16 to No. 29. The Carpenter’s “(They Long To Be) Close To You” dropped fourteen places, from No. 17 to No. 31, “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon and War fell fifteen spots from No. 21 to No. 36, and Bread’s “Make It With You” dropped eighteen places from No. 20 to No. 38.

That leaves three records still to mention, records that shifted more than eighteen places in one week, and looking ahead, I see trouble. The week’s champion, with an amazing leap of twenty-four spots from No. 42 to No. 18, is the Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun.” But that song’s story – it began as a bank commercial – was told superbly just more than a week ago by the Half-Hearted Dude, and I see no reason to post the record, as lovely as it is, here. The second-largest shift of the week ending October 3, 1970, was a tumble of twenty places, from No. 15 to No. 35, for Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime,” a tune that’s long ago worn out its welcome in my ears.

So there must be compromise, which leads us to the week’s third-place mover, a record by the Four Tops that moved nineteen spots, from No. 39 to No. 20. It’s not one of the records that come immediately to mind when one thinks of the Four Tops, but it did all right, spending ten weeks in the Top 40 and peaking at No. 11. Nor does it sound like the Four Tops of the mid-1960s, the years of “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette.” Instead, it’s got a lilting, almost Latin sound, one that reminded me at least a little bit of Malo (“Suavecito”) and El Chicano (“Viva Tirado, Part I” and “Tell Her She’s Lovely”).

So with all that in mind, here’s “Still Water (Love)” by the Four Tops, today’s Saturday Single.

On Summers Gone

May 13, 2022

Originally posted July 31, 2009

I’ve been trying for an hour now to write something meaningful about how it felt to be a kid in summertime. And I’m not sure that what I remember is really how it felt. There is a tendency, a temptation, to put a nostalgic and meaningful glaze on all the memories and perceptions of childhood and youth (a temptation I frequently find difficult to resist), as if the only purpose of being a child in the 1960s was to provide memories for us in later life.

That’s not how it was, of course. We didn’t run through our summer days constantly thinking how fine our memories of those days would someday be. Oh, there were times, special days, when the thought came: I hope I remember this forever. And I do remember thinking that at times, but sadly and ironically, I don’t recall in any of those cases what it was that I hoped to remember.

I do remember games: We boys – with a few girls, now and then – would play workup baseball in the street during the day and into the late afternoon. After dinner, as the evening approached, all of us – boys and girls alike – would play games like “Kick the Can,” a hide-and-seek type game. We played across a territory that ranged widely around the neighborhood, with some yards in play and others – generally those of folks who had no kids – not in play. That would go on until the very last light of the day was fading and the streetlights came on. Then, in ones and twos, kids would make their ways home.

At other times, we – generally Rick and I – might make our way to the grocery store half a block away on Fifth Avenue. We’d dither over the best investment for our pennies and nickels, maybe buy some Dubble Bubble or Sour Grapes bubble gum. Or maybe we’d buy one of those balsa wood gliders that – with luck – flew loops in the backyard air without getting stuck in the trees.

We were unconcerned, for the most part, with the events and realities of life beyond Kilian Boulevard and the southeast side. I, being who I’ve always been, followed the news at least a little, but the accounts I read of the civil rights movement, and of war and unrest in a place called Vietnam, didn’t touch us. Not then, in the first half of the 1960s.

We got older, and one by one, the older kids quit playing the summer games we’d always played. And one summer, sometime in the latter half of the 1960s, Rick and I were the older kids, and the younger kids were playing their own games. With a figurative shrug, we went off and did something else.

Many things about those summertimes are hazy, with specific memories replaced by generalities. But one thing I know: As I made my way from being one of the little kids to being one of the older kids, I was aware of summertime music. I remember how it seemed like the volume was turned up during those three months. Even in the very early years, I heard music during summer that I evidently chose to ignore the rest of the year.

Some Summertime Hits From Motown
 “Heat Wave” by Martha & The Vandellas, Gordy 7022 (No. 4, 1963)
“Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth, Gordy 7108 (No. 3, 1971)
“Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations, Gordy 7054 (No. 13, 1966)
“I Was Made To Love Her” by Stevie Wonder, Tamla 54151 (No. 2, 1967)
“It’s the Same Old Song” by the Four Tops, Motown 1081 (No. 5, 1965)
 “I’ll Keep Holding On” by the Marvelettes, Tamla 54116 (No. 34, 1965)
“You Beat Me To The Punch” by Mary Wells, Motown 1032 (No. 9, 1962)
“The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5, Motown 116 (No. 1, 1970)
“Where Did Our Love Go” by the Supremes, Motown 1051 (No. 1, 1964)
“The Tracks Of My Tears” by the Miracles, Tamla 54118 (No. 16, 1965)

When selecting from the massive Motown/Gordy/Tamla catalog, it’s comforting to have a few rules in place. Given my framework here of choosing only songs that entered the Top 40 in June, July or August, as well as choosing one song per performer/group, I thought I did pretty well.

Many of these, of course, came out in the years before I paid much attention to rock, pop or R&B, but Motown’s best work – like a lot of the great music of the time – was part of the environment. Wherever we went, there were radios, and wherever radios were, you heard the tunes of the time. I’m not saying I heard all of these when they were on the radio regularly, but I know I heard most of them, and for today, that’s close enough.

And In This Corner . . .

March 16, 2012

Originally posted March 9, 2009

The Texas Gal and I stopped by the St. Cloud Armory for a little while Saturday afternoon and took in the craft show; there’s one in the armory every three months or so. We spent a pleasant time looking at jewelry and needlework, sampling jams and candies and checking out the paintings, some of them on old barn wood.

I hadn’t been in the armory for years, maybe since a Boy Scout event in the early 1970s. And I recalled the first time I was there: For an evening of All-Star Wrestling sometime in early 1965, I think.

It was when I was about eleven that I began watching the wrestling matches on television, shown here in St. Cloud on WTCN, the Twin Cities television station where I would have my internship in the mid-1970s. Professional wrestling in those days was very unlike today’s massive attraction. There were no gaudy costumes, no huge arenas, no huge paydays. But there were similarities: There were good guys to cheer, bad guys to boo, results were seemingly predetermined and the crowds loved it.

The prime good guy here was Vern Gagne (who, sadly, has been in the news lately), and the bad guys were The Crusher and The Bruiser, with all of them well-known in the Upper Midwest. And most Saturday evenings for a year or so, I’d park myself in the living room and watch an hour of wrestling. There were plenty of other wrestlers on the weekly show, too, guys working their way up the ladder of the American Wrestling Association, which Gagne happened to own.

And one of the regulars on the show was a wrestler with the unlikely name of Robert Goulet. I have to think it’s his birth name; I can’t imagine that anyone in the early 1960s looking for a wrestling stage name would have purposefully selected the name of Robert Goulet. I dunno. Maybe. But anyway, I saw Goulet wrestle on television a few times and I thought he was okay. He won, and he wasn’t all that flashy. (Even back then, flashy stuff didn’t impress me; I wanted to see guys go out and do their jobs and then sit down. The fact that the matches themselves were stagecraft – and I think I knew that, even then – didn’t bother me. Stagecraft was performance; flash was, well, flash.)

And one evening, the announcer on television said that Goulet would be wrestling the next week in St. Cloud. I pestered Dad for a while, and he agreed to take me. So the next Saturday evening, Dad and I went to the St. Cloud Armory and sat in folding chairs to watch some wrestling. I’m not sure how many matches we saw, but folks cheered and booed as the wrestlers did their work. I don’t recall anymore if anyone got thrown out of the ring onto the concrete. But I know Goulet was there: Somewhere in my boxes of junk is an autographed scrap of paper. “Robert ‘Bob’ Goulet” is how he signed his name, perhaps to diminish any possible confusion with that other fellow by the name of Goulet.

I don’t suppose I watched televised wrestling more than a year or so before I moved on to other interests. But it was part of my life for a brief time. So for a moment Saturday afternoon, the St. Cloud Armory wasn’t filled with tables displaying necklaces, embroidered towels and home-made candles. Instead, there was a wrestling ring surrounded by rows of folding chairs. The folks sitting in the chairs were booing. And over by the wall, behind the last row of chairs, a small boy with glasses was offering a pen and a scrap of paper to a large, sweaty man.

And here’s a little bit of what else was happening in early 1965:

A Six-Pack From The Charts (Billboard Hot 100, March 6, 1965)
“Ask The Lonely” by the Four Tops, Motown 1073 (No. 27)
“New York’s A Lonely Town” by the Trade Winds, Red Bird 020 (No. 32)
“Paper Tiger” by Sue Thompson, Hickory 1284 (No. 41)
“If I Ruled The World” by Tony Bennett, Columbia 43220 (No. 56)
“When I’m Gone” by Brenda Holloway, Tamla 54111 (No. 74)
“Land of 1000 Dances” by Cannibal & the Headhunters, Rampart 642 (No. 97)

We have here, purposely, a rather odd mix: a few good pieces of R&B, a bit of surf music, a country-pop hit and one cover of a show tune.

“Ask The Lonely” was the second Top 40 hit for the Four Tops, it only went to No. 24, but it was the prelude to the Tops’ amazing run in the charts: In May, “I Can’t Help Myself” (known colloquially as “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch”) went to No. 1, the first of five Top Ten hits for the Tops in the next two years. (Included in that string is the remarkable consecutive trio of “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” a run of three singles that few groups or performers can match.) The Tops remained a frequent presence in the Top 40 chart into the early 1970s, and their last hit came in 1988 with “Indestructible,” a tune that went to No. 35 after being used by the NBC television network for its coverage of the summer Olympic Games.

“When I’m Gone” was the second of three Top 40 hits for Brenda Holloway. The first was “Every Little Bit Hurts,” which went to No. 13 in 1964. “When I’m Gone” went to No. 25. And Holloway might be best known for the song that was her last hit and went only to No. 39: Holloway wrote – along with Berry Gordy, Jr., Patrice Holloway and Frank Wilson – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” a song likely better known for the version recorded by Blood, Sweat & Tears on its second, self-titled album. (BST took the song to No. 2 in 1969.)

Cannibal & the Headhunters’ version of “Land of 1000 Dances” isn’t the best known. That would be the Wilson Pickett version that went to No. 6 in 1966. Cannibal’s version went to No. 30 a year earlier. According to writer Dave Marsh, Cannibal & the Headhunters were a Chicano quartet from East Los Angeles and learned the song after hearing it on a Rufus Thomas album; Thomas had gotten the song from the original single, written and recorded in 1963 by New Orleans musician Chris Kenner. (Kenner’s “I Like It Like That, Part 1” spent three weeks at No. 2 in 1961, but his “Land of 1000 Dances” did not make the charts.) With the live atmosphere of their recording, not to mention the odd shrieks in the background, Cannibal & the Headhunters, notes Marsh, earned a spot on the Beatles’ 1965 U.S. tour.

The Trade Winds have been in this space before. The duo of Vinnie Poncia and Pete Anders recorded a couple years later as the Innocence, and their single, “There’s Got To Be A Word” and its B-Side were the topic of a post in December. With “New York’s A Lonely Town,” Poncia and Anders – along with a group of top session players – managed to make a song about the East Coast into a (subdued) surfing anthem atop a Spector-ish background. The song edged into the Top 40, peaking at No. 32. (I’ve never been sure how to spell the group’s name. I’ve seen it as two words and as one. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits has “Trade Winds,” so I’ll go with that.)

If the presence of “Paper Tiger” and “If I Ruled The World” prove anything, it’s that nearly any kind of music could make the Top 40 in 1965. Thompson’s country-pop record – written by J.D. Loudermilk – was her fifth and last Top 40 hit, reaching No. 23. (She reached the Top Ten Twice: In 1961, “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” went to No. 5, and “Norman” went to No. 3 in 1962.) “Paper Tiger” and its like aren’t something I’d want to hear on a regular basis, but when it pops up among Sharon Jones, Bruce Springsteen and the Police, it’s kind of cool.

“If I Ruled The World,” which came from the Broadway musical Pickwick, was Bennett’s thirteenth and last Top 40 hit. It’s not a great song, but Bennett can sing most anything and make it sound good. The song went to No. 34 and was pulled from an album titled If I Ruled the World: Songs for the Jet Set, which All-Music Guide says was a concept album about travel similar in theme to Frank Sinatra’s 1957 album, Come Fly With Me.

Saturday Singles Nos. 97, 98 & 99

August 24, 2011

Originally posted October 18, 2008

In the Sixties, you had to choose.

Just like those in Chicago have to choose, for life, to support the Cubs or the White Sox in their pursuit of baseball’s fortunes, so in the Sixties did kids who liked music have to make a choice. They had to declare themselves fans of either the Temptations or the Four Tops.

Both groups were worthy: marvelous vocalists singing great songs from the Motown catalog, both backed more than ably by the group of studio musicians known as the Funk Brothers. The Temptations were a little smoother, maybe a little more subtle. The Four Tops came straight at you with a few rough edges, a little more insistence that you listen to what it was they had to say.

The key voice in that insistent sound is gone. Levi Stubbs, the Four Tops’ lead singer, died Friday, October 17, at his home in Detroit.

As I’ve noted before, I paid little attention to most of the world of Top 40 music during the 1960s, but like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Supremes, the Temptations and probably a few other performers, even a non-listener knew about the Four Tops. Their hits came rolling out of the radio that was always present when kids gathered so that even the uphip kid who preferred trumpet music knew about Levi Stubbs and his parters, knew about their great trio of 1966-67, when they released “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” followed by “Standing In The Shadows Of Love,” which was in turn followed by the sublime “Bernadette.” All three of those made the Top Ten (as did four other Four Tops singles between the years 1964 and 1988), with “Reach Out” spending two weeks at No. 1, while “Standing” went to No. 6 and “Bernadette” going to No. 4.

No one asked me “Tempts or Tops?” back then, when I was barely a teenager and still holding onto my Al Hirt records, but had they, they might have been surprised at the rapidity and surety of my answer. The Four Tops, without a doubt. I liked what I heard from the Temptations; they sang to my heart.

But the Four Tops went for my soul. At thirteen, I couldn’t really know, but I could imagine what it might be like in those shadows of love (I would find out soon enough). I understood the need to be needed hidden in the offer when Levi and the others sang “Reach out! I’ll be there!” And if I didn’t know a Bernadette – never did, as a matter of fact – then I knew other girls on whom I thought my existence depended.

And the gorgeous strong voices telling those tales, led by Stubbs’ baritone, all laid onto a background that was pulsing and inventive – check out the woodwinds at the start of “Reach Out I’ll Be There” as just one small example – those strong voices made the stories told in those songs real, true and pertinent to the lives of kids all across America.

I tend to rely on “Bernadette” as my ultimate Four Tops single; writer Dave Marsh leans on “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” Or at least, that was the highest-ranked Four Tops single when Marsh dissected the history of singles up through 1989 in The Heart of Rock & Soul. He placed “Reach Out I’ll Be There” in the fourth spot on that list, the highest-ranked of eight Four Tops record he placed among the 1,001 greatest singles.

After noting the record’s strengths – many of which can only be appreciated, Marsh says, by listening to the 45 instead of the LP or CD versions – Marsh writes, “Even Stubbs fans understand why his style can be too declamatory, but here, he’s undeniable, a man lost in a welter of misery, his shouts emerging from an abyss. The music is dizzying, the drums collide against every phrase he sings, but Levi soldiers on, riding out a maelstrom.”

And Levi soldiered on with the three other guys he’d met when they were all in high school: through a total of twenty-four Top 40 hits, seven of them in the Top Ten; through nearly thirty albums; and all the way to membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Age began to catch up on them. In 2005, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, the Tops’ bass singer died. And yesterday, Levi Stubbs crossed over. I imagine he’s singing to Bernadette again:

In you I have what other men long for.
All men need someone to worship and adore,
That’s why I treasure you and place you high above,
For the only joy in life is to be loved.
So whatever you do, Bernadette, keep on loving me,
Bernadette, keep on needing me,

I’ve never been sure who needs whom more in that song, a quandary not unknown in life. Levi Stubbs helped millions know what it was like to feel that way.

Here are those three Four Tops songs, today’s Saturday Singles:

“Reach Out I’ll Be There” [1966]

“Standing In the Shadows Of Love” [1966]

“Bernadette” [1967]

“You’re Not To Blame . . .’

May 6, 2011

Originally posted August 28, 2007

It was nearly impossible, during the autumn of 1966, to escape the Left Banke.

Even one who didn’t listen avidly to pop music heard, seemingly everywhere, the violins and reedy vocals that dominated the Left Banke’s hit “Walk Away, Renee.” During its ten-week stay in the Top 40 – and it seemed a longer time than that – the record peaked at No. 5 and became one of the enduring earworms of the 1960s. Just a ten-second snippet of the song is liable to embed the song in one’s mind for hours.

That’s not to say that “Walk Away, Renee” is not a beautiful record. It is. The group’s chief writer, Michael Brown, wrote “Renee” with friends Bob Calilli and Tony Sansone, but he wrote most of the rest of the group’s oeuvre on his own. In doing so, Brown showed a skill in composition far greater than one would expect a teenager to have, and his craft in writing lyrics was also obvious, though not as astounding as his composition skills.

And the song, whether its strains came from a hand-held transistor radio, from the backseat speaker in a car or from a larger radio set at home, drew listeners in. The clearly sung chorus – “Just walk away, Renee; you won’t see me follow you back home.” – contrasted with the muffled vocals of the verses, leaving listeners to wonder exactly why Renee was being dismissed. I recall numerous discussions after school and on weekends of exactly what the words were and what did they mean?

(I looked at the lyrics for the first time ever today, as I was writing this, and finally resolved a question that I’d pondered very occasionally for the past forty years. I’d wondered if there truly were a sunglasses reference in the lyrics, for I’ve always heard the words “Foster-Grants” in the song. It turns out that I was mishearing the words “forced to cry.”)

Those types of conversations – detecting the accurate lyrics to a popular song – are less frequent now, I assume, with the existence of so many lyric sites on the ’Net. There still might be challenges in divining the meanings of lyrics, though. (And not all sites are all that accurate, of course. I recall one lyrics site that misheard one song’s words “I’m from the barrio” as “I’m from the bayou.”)

In the years since we first heard of the singer’s unrequited love for Renee, there have been numerous covers of the song. One of the more evocative versions came from Vonda Shepard for the television show Ally McBeal in late 1990s. That’s a little more recent than I like to deal with here, so I’ve selected one of the earliest cover versions of the song, that by the Four Tops.

At first thought, the pairing seems odd. The Four Tops’ greatest success came with more forceful work, songs like “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” not with the light, airy strains of something like “Walk Away, Renee.” But lead singer Levi Stubbs and his partners – backed by the superlative Motown studio players – do a pretty good job with the song, and the resulting single (Motown 1119) reached No. 14 on the pop chart in the early spring of 1968.

And it’s easier to understand the lyrics, too.

Four Tops – “Walk Away, Renee” [1968]