Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Immortals - The Greatest Artists of All Time: 79)The Four Tops by Smokey Robinson

The Four Tops are a one-in-a-million singing group. They were the best in my neighborhood in Detroit when I was growing up. When I was eleven or so, my first group was an early version of what would become the Miracles. Back then the Four Tops were called the Four Aims. We all used to sing on the corners, at school functions and at house parties. Sometimes we'd have talent competitions. But all the groups in the neighborhood knew that if the Four Aims were going to be there, you were going to be singing for second place at best.
They were the first group from the neighborhood that sang modern harmony: They could sing like a gospel group but then do R&B like no one else. I love singers whom you can identify the first second they open their mouth, and Levi Stubbs is one of those; he's one of the greatest of all time. He has that distinctive voice, and his range is staggering. The combination of Levi, Obie Benson, Duke Fakir and Lawrence Payton was truly awesome.

When they came to Motown and teamed up with Holland-Dozier-Holland, there was no looking back. They performed some of the most dramatic records ever written: "Standing in the Shadows of Love," "Bernadette," "Reach Out I'll Be There," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" and "Baby I Need Your Loving." Later, when Holland-Dozier-Holland left, I co-wrote "Still Water (Love)" with Frank Wilson for the Four Tops.

They were always great singers and great guys. When the Four Tops first came to Motown, the Miracles and I were the mainstays of the label, and the Temptations had just gotten there. But all the guys were very, very close. You'd come back to town from a fifty-one-night tour, and the first thing you did was shower and head back to Hitsville. We'd be there playing cards and shooting pool together into the early hours.

Levi is sick and he can't perform right now, but the Four Tops are still great. Obie -- who co-wrote "What's Going On" for Marvin Gaye -- and Duke are still there, and you've got some great new guys with them. So if you see the Four Tops now, you are still going to be mightily entertained. The Four Tops will always be one of the biggest and the best groups ever. Their music is forever.

This article was written for Rolling Stone Magazine by Smokey Robinson in 2004

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