Thursday, July 29, 2010
FOUR TOPS sans Levi Stubbs live show July 5, 2010
What would The Four Tops sound like without Levi Stubbs?
You'll find the answer in the download below. When The Four Tops take the stage, either at oldies shows, headlining, or co-billed with whatever's left of The Temptations, the announcer usually tells the crowd that the show is dedicated to Levi Stubbs (and mentions a few of the other dead Tops as well).
Which puts The Four Tops into the odd position of simultaneously being the stars of the show and a tribute band. They are billed as THE Four Tops. But without distinctive lead singer Stubbs, it's just a bunch of guys covering the well-loved Motown songs. Since they tend to play in good-time places like theme parks, or to older audiences who are just celebrating being alive, the ethics don't matter much. It's just a little funny when the new lead singer nostalgically describes how the band proved they could handle more than Motown soul when they covered "Walk Away Renee…" even though he wasn't in the band when that happened.
But if you were expecting that familiar, magical sound of Levi Stubbs, who was the lead singer and soul of the band, no, that's gone. In fact, it's best preserved on those old 45's, because the secret of The Four Tops' success as an AM-radio super group, was in over-peaking his vocals and letting the VU meter arrow go raw into red, and also to write the charts a few notes out of his natural range, forcing him to strain and shout the lyrics.
For what it's worth, and it really isn't anything, the Illfolks blog considers The Four Tops to be the best of the Motown groups, with songs such as 'Bernadette," "Seven Rooms of Gloom" and "It's The Same Old Song" far more important and gut-wrenching than the sweet stuff their contemporaries were singing, and that goes for "Tears of a Clown," "Just My Imagination," "Baby Love" and "My Cherie Amour." Not to mention the Jackson Five, please.
Even though a lot of The Four Tops songs did sound alike, they were all good. They managed to vary their sound enough to score hits in the 70's ("MacArthur Park") and 80's ("When She Was My Girl," big on the R&B chart if not the actual Top 100). The band did seem to be "Indestructible," to give you the title of the 1988 song that was really the last time the Four Tops sounded anything like The Four Tops, and seemed immortal.
Still, there's something a bit creepy about not letting an historic group die. Why is it that this generation can't accept death the way past generations did? Past generations let The Andrews Sisters die. They let Spike Jones and his City Slickers die. They let Louis Jordan and his Timpany Five die, and Red Ingle and his Natural Seven.
So why is it that wimps keep resurrecting The Kingston Trio, hauling out bogus versions of The Marcels or The Platters, and running tours of Jay and the Americans without Jay, or Herman's Hermits without Herman, or The Animals with whatever monkeys want to bicker over the name?
"The Four Tops" is an attention-getting name to use. They have one original band member left, which is often enough to pretend "truth in advertising." But when you see Queen, Vanilla Fudge or The Four Tops without the famous lead singer/voice, what, as Marvin Gaye might ask, is goin' on? "Official Four Tops Tribute Band" might be less commercial but more ethical, since the band does not sound anything it did when fronted by Levi Stubbs!
There's a song in "My Fair Lady" that assures us that there will be Spring every year WITHOUT YOU. Last July 4th weekend, a hot and happy crowd seemed to enjoy a nostalgic set of Motown WITHOUT STUBBS. Too bad that the announcer didn't specifically say, "The Four Tops' sound was mainly the work of its lead singer Levi Stubbs. He is very, very dead, but his spirit lives on. The song never dies, just the singer. I give you…an acceptable tribute band that is officially allowed to be called The Four Tops…"
Cut to the download for a frisky non-Stubbs half hour of: Loving You (Is Sweeter Than Ever), Bernadette, The Same Old Song, Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over), Walk Away Renee, Something About You Baby, A Simple Game, When She Was My Girl, Ain't No Woman (Like the One I Got), Reach Out (I'll Be There), Can't Help Myself.
FOUR TOPS PERFORM JULY 5, 2010
Posted by Ill Folks at 8:22 AM