This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.
RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.
Song #74: (Reach Out) I’ll Be There by The Four Tops.
Of all of the artists and singing groups that came through the Motown Hit Factory, The Four Tops are the ones that hold the unique distinction of having kept the same line-up intact the longest. In fact, the lineup of Levi Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton stayed together as one unit….no breakups, no taking a hiatus….for over forty years! Furthermore, if it weren’t for the fact that Death came to call, one by one, The Four Tops would probably have lasted even longer than the forty years that they did.
The Four Tops known for their harmonies but, also, for their professionalism and skill set when it came time to record a new song. It was said that The Four Tops often kept the first take or two of every song they ever recorded. And, they recorded lots of songs! Their roster of hit singles includes, “Baby, I Need Your Loving”, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)”, “River Deep/Mountain High”, “Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got”, “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There” and many more. When The Four Tops wound their career down due to health issues, Motown head, Barry Gordy lauded them as being the epitome of style and grace. The Four Tops were inducted into The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
As for the song, “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There”, The Four Tops recorded so many songs that, in reality, they had lost track of this song after they recorded it. To them, it was just another song written and arranged by the crack writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. In fact, the guys in the band didn’t even think it was the best song of the bunch under consideration for their next album and tour. The problem with the song, from their point of view, was that it was written by H-D-H as a bit of a challenge for the group. The lead singing part, sung by Levi Stubbs (who has a deep voice) was intentionally written to be sung at the high end of his vocal range which, for him, required a lot of concentration and effort to maintain that high a pitch. Furthermore, there are several changes in octave levels throughout the song, making “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There” a technically-tricky song to sing. It was, actually, Barry Gordy who tabbed “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There” as music gold. A final bit of trivia about this song is that it was conceived as a tribute to Bob Dylan’s style of singing. If you listen carefully to Levi Stubbs, sometimes he is talking and sometimes he is singing. This speak-sing style of singing was meant to mirror how Bob Dylan approached many of his hit songs. When the song hit the airwaves, many people started calling The Four Tops, “the Black Dylans”. ***I am not sure if any of those same people called Dylan, “Mr. White Top”.
I will end this post with a provocative tidbit of information for the ladies reading this today. I am curious as to what you think of the fact that in preparing to write this song, the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland…three men…came up with the concept of “What does a woman really want from a man?” These three men brainstormed a list of ideas that they felt met their criteria and, in the end, these three men decided that what women want most from a man is for the man to be dependable and to always be there for her. For what it is worth, that is not the worst answer but, I found it interesting that, once again, a group of men sat around deciding what was best for the women of the world. Such is life in a Man’s world, I suppose. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comment section below.
For now, let’s have a listen to one of the biggest Motown hits of all-time; a song that The Four Tops didn’t really think was that hot of a song but, a song that, never-the-less, got them into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and, as well, became only the second Motown song ever to reach #1 in the UK. Here is “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There” by The Four Tops. Enjoy.
The link to the video for the song, “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There” by The Four Tops, can be found here.
The link to the official website for The Four Tops, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Motown Records, can be found here.
The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.