Sunday, October 19, 2008

Levi Stubbs: An Appreciation

Shortly before the beginning of my radio show this past Friday, I learned that Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops had died at the age of 72. Because I was crunched for time, I just posted the news of Levi's death along with a link to another news report. Now that I have the time, I wanted to do a proper post about Levi.

Without question, Levi Stubbs had one of the most distinctive voices in popular music. Even if someone played you an obscure Four Tops songs, you'd most likely recognize the fiery lead vocals of Levi. In the TV special "Motown 40" that aired in the late 90s, Lionel Richie praised Levi's vocal skill. He said something along lines that he was amazed that Levi could sing the way he did without hurting his vocal chords.

Although most people are familiar with Levi Stubbs' voice, there are some who didn't know him by name. That's because he and the other members of The Tops (Lawrence Payton, Renaldo "Obie" Benson, and Abdul "Duke" Fakir) were more interested in group unity. Even though the decision not to alter their name to something like The Four Tops featuring Levi Stubbs cost him some recognition, it most likely also contributed to group's longevity without any personnel changes until Payton's death in 1997. It also helped that The Four Tops were a little older than most of their Motown labelmates and had been in the business for over 10 years by the time they had their first hit in 1964. As a result, they probably weren't as susceptible to the pitfalls of fame that affected such Motowners as David Ruffin and Florence Ballard.

Although Levi Stubbs is no longer with us, we still have the CDs, vinyl, etc. to ensure that his unmistakable voice is never forgotten.

On my radio show (The Retro Mix), I normally feature music of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. However, on Friday October 24 from 7-9 pm EST, I'll be paying tribute to Levi Stubbs by featuring Four Tops' songs from their 1960s era. During the show, I will also be including tunes by other artists from the 1960s and the 1950s too.

Below is an excellent Four Tops tune that you don't hear much anymore, I Got A Feeling. It was the B-side to their 1967 hit, Bernadette.


pjazzypar said...

Truly one of the greatest voices of all time. We often talk about the originality of the voices from past musical era and Levi was definitely an original voice. It seems like one by one, all the greats are slipping away. I don't know if The Four Top made Holland Dozier Holland or the other way around, but it was a match made in heaven.

Candy Minx said...

Fascinating, you got me right into listening to his voice and watching for it. A lovely tribute. I am sorry to hear Stubbs is gone.

Yep, what Pjazzypar said. (and thanks for your kind thoughts Malcolm re:Vegas)

Bryan said...

Honestly, I've never heard of him but this was very well done.

radio show? radio show? what radio show?

Jessica said...

Nice tribute Malcolm. I'm so glad you can devote your show to his music!

Malcolm said...

Pjazzy: One of these days I might do a post on the lack of originality in many of the people singing today. As for who made who between HDH and The Four Tops, that's a tough call. I did notice that after HDH left Motown, the quality of The Four Tops' material dipped a little and they tended to rely on covers such as "If I Were A Carpenter" and "Walk Away Renee" for their singles.

Candy: Thanks! I am really looking forward to The Four Tops tribute I'm doing on Friday.

Bryan: I'm glad you enjoyed the post. As for my radio show, you can get the details of it by clicking on the "View My Profile" link right next to my avatar in the upper right corner of my blog.

Jessica: Thanks! I hope you are able to tune in tomorrow and hear some of that good stuff from the 1950s and 1960s.

jdaman said...

There's a very good photo story of Levi's services on forum. Here's the link:

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