Monday, October 20, 2008

Levi Stubbs R. I. P. (1936 - 2008)

Growing up in the 60s and listening to music on the radio meant I heard a lot of Motown. Berry Gordy's stable of stars were the first black musicians I was exposed to except for a few adult-oriented artists like Louie Armstrong, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald. To most kids their music wasn't cool, nor was it "black" in the same way Motown was considered black. The label's Stevie Wonder eventually became one of my all time favorite artists in the 70s, however, in the 60s, I preferred The Temptations, The Supremes, and the Four Tops.

The Temps had an earthier sound than The Tops and a case could be made that the latter's more polished records made them the male counterparts to The Supremes. The two groups were almost identical when it came to their instrumental arrangements and they shared the fabulous composing trio of Holland, Dozier, Holland who wrote most of the huge hits for both acts. The big difference was in their lead singers. While Diana Ross oozed smoothness and sex appeal, The Four Tops lead singer, Levi Stubbs, was a classic R & B shouter.

My first summer experience with Top 40 radio in 1965 was rewarded by the discovery of "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and the followup "It's The Same Old Song." I loved The Four Tops vocal harmonies and, until I listened to Stubbs, I never heard a male lead singer who could vocalize with such grit, soul, and class all at the same time. The combination made The Four Tops one of the most loved singing groups in 60s pop music.

All four original Tops sang together for over forty years. That's virtually unheard of in the music business. Stubbs, who died last week at age 72, suffered from both cancer and a stroke. The only reason he left the quartet in 2000 was because of his poor health. Sadly, as of today, only Abdul (Duke) Fakir remains alive.

So here's a great big thank you Mr. Stubbs. You'll be missed. "I've Got A Feeling" the "Same Old Song" will never sound the same.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! You beat me to it - but I still might put something together for my blog. For me too, the sound of Motown was my first real exposure to 'black' music even though I depise the segregation. To me at the time it was just great music. The H-D-H period in the middle sixties is one of the great times in popular music and Levi was a substantial part of it.

    Such a sad day.