FOUR TOPS; 50th Anniversary – The Singles Collection (Universal/Motown)

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The fabulous Four Tops are the latest artists to get the full Motown 50th anniversary treatment with this 3CD package that pulls together all their singles for the label along with a few bonuses.

The Tops – Levi Stubbs, Duke Fakir, Lawrence Payton and Renaldo Benson – began life as the Four Aims and they came to Motown (after an unsuccessful stint at Chess) as a jazz quartet. Producer Mickey Stevenson wanted them to head up the Workshop Jazz imprint but after one aborted jazz album (‘Breaking Through’), Holland-Dozier-Holland got to work with them and the rest is history. The still vital ‘Baby I Need Your Loving’ began a run of chart hits that included stuff like ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, ‘7 Rooms of Gloom’, ‘Bernadette’, ‘Something About You’, ‘Shake Me, Wake Me’ and the truly monumental ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ – an era-defining record if ever there was one. Those tunes and countless more –along with superb B-sides (like ‘Where Did You Go’ and ‘Until You Love Someone’) are all here to enjoy one more time and presented like this they prove that of all the great Motown groups, the Four Tops had the most distinctive style and sound of any of them. The explanation for that is simple – although all four members could handle the lead parts, the group were consistently led by the magnificent Levi Stubbs and it’s his stentorian voice that’s the singular sound of the Four Tops. I’ve been lucky enough to interview Duke Fakir a number of times and he’s often revealed to me that Levi had numerous offers to go solo. He rejected every one – explaining that he would never leave or work without his “three best friends”… and that closeness and togetherness is evident throughout this 81 track collection. The Four Tops were a tight team (yes, sometimes augmented on disc by the Andantes) and that tightness was evident on everything they did. They enjoyed working with each other and it shines though on every track – and was self-evident if you ever saw them live at their peak.

No live recordings here, by the way, but you do get the singles they recorded with the Supremes and as bonuses the set offers all the UK singles and Italian language versions of ‘I Can’t Help Myself’. ‘Reach Out’ and ‘Walk Away Renee’. Needless to say the pack is beautifully presented – full of archive pix and complete track details.

(BB) 4/5