This new Four Tops’ compilation is one of many releases in Universal’s “Icon” series. The idea behind the series is to introduce new listeners to classic pop and soul via a budget album that offers a concise overview of a particular artist’s career. Then, I guess, the marketeers hope is that that this new audience will want to hear more and start digging into the back catalogues.
That said, it’s clear that long-standing Tops’ fans and general soul collectors will find nothing new here. The 12 track selection is almost totally predictable. All the big tunes are here – ‘Baby I Need Your Loving’, ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ and so on, but wise old Harry Weinger, who’s compiled the set, also includes a smattering of non-Motown material. This includes the beautiful ‘Ain’t No Woman’, the catchy ‘When She Was My Girl’ and the awesome ‘I Believe In You And Me’ –and that’s the one which made me use the phrase “almost totally predictable” up top. The searing Linzer/Wolfert ballad isn’t usually anthologized like this (more’s the pity). My guess is that Harry’s included it to underline what all real soul fans already know; that Levi Stubbs was one of the greatest ever soul singers. Here, his passion is a mix of restraint and attack and it drives home how badly we still miss him. The song (and indeed the whole album) is fine tribute to Levi and to his friendship with Duke, Obie and Lawrence… a trio he stayed faithful to despite umpteen pleas from Berry Gordy (and others) to go solo.