Song of the Day 10/20

Posted: October 20, 2011 in J.C. Personal
Tags: ,

Today’s song is among the best of Motown. Written and produced by the famed Holland-Dozier-Holland team and released in 1966, “Reach Out I’ll Be There” was one of The Four Tops biggest singles. The song went to number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Rolling Stone calls the song the 206th greatest song of all time.

The Four Tops formed in Detroit, Michigan as The Four Aims. Band members Levi Stubbs (cousin of Jackie Wilson), Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renalso “Obie” Benson, and Lawrence Payton performed together from 1953 until 1997 with no line-up changes. The first change to the members of The Four Tops happened in 1997 when Lawrence Payton died. After a short stint as a three piece, Payton was replaced by Theo Peoples, a former member of The Temptations. Although The Four Tops are still performing under that name, Fakir is the only surviving original member.

Early in their tenure at Motown, The Four Tops recorded jazz standards. Between records, they sang back up for groups like The Supremes and Martha Reeves & The Vandellas. The Four Tops first hit came from a complete instrumental track that Motown’s songwriting team wasn’t sure what to do with, so they created “Baby I Need Your Loving” from the track and The Four Tops recorded it in 1964.

One of the biggest things to distinguish The Four Tops from other similar bands was that their lead singer, Stubbs, was a baritone, unlike most tenor-range lead singers of the time. Holland-Dozier-Holland decided to write the music in the tenor range so that Stubbs’s voice would sound somewhat strained. They believed this would give the singing a sense of urgency and an almost gospel quality to it.

The song has been covered by many, including British singer Jackie Trent, Diana Ross, Gloria Gaynor, Michael Bolton, Michael McDonald, Boyz II Men, Meat Puppets, Richie Kotzen, Bill Cosby recorded a comedic take on the song, Michael Jackson alludes to the song in The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” and Elton John’s “Healing Hands” was directly inspired by the song.

The song is a man telling a woman that anytime she needs something, no matter how bad things get, she can always reach out to him and he will be there. The structure is fairly complex for the time, shifting from major to minor to minor augmented chords during the hook, as opposed to the major, major, minor structure of most songs at the time. (You’re welcome, musically inclined readers).

The Four Tops had a string of hits during their time with Motown, but it is “Reach Out I’ll Be There” along with “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” that have become the songs with which they are most associated.

The next time you’re in a Motown mood, reach out…The Four Tops will be there.

See ya on the “b” side.

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