The story behind the classic Four Tops song

Photo: Motown Archive/EMI Hayes

It seems weird today that four peaks were supposed to be Motown’s jazz vocal act. Very accomplished, with an impeccable mastery of harmony, one of their first singles was for the specialized jazz label Riverside, and they had worked with the to balance singer Billy Eckstine and singer Della Reese, but it seems neither the band nor the company were convinced of their place on Berry Gordy, Jr.after joining Motown in 1963. The renditions of jazz standards they had recorded, destined for an album with a working title of Drill, remained in the box. They saved themselves a useful backing vocal for other artists, and watched and waited. Their break-up came in 1964 with their first single for the company, “Baby I Need Your Loving” – an all-time classic that was nothing but sweet soulful music.

“We were in the studio from 2 a.m. until 8 a.m.”

The band’s lead singer, Levi Stubbs, recalls, “We were at 20 Grand Nightclub in Detroit watching temptations Where Martha and the Vandellas play – I don’t know which one – and Brian Holland and most of the company people were there. Brian said, “I think we’ve got a #1 record for you,” and I said, “Well, yeah, we’d love to hear it!” It was about half past one in the evening. We were like, ‘Well, why don’t we just wait until the show is over and we go over there? [to Motown’s Hitsville HQ] and listen, because the club closed at 2 a.m. So we went down and stayed there until eight in the morning and we cut it – and it was a smash.

The song had a somewhat curious design, but not unique. Motown’s brilliant young production team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland constructed the backing track without having a song to go along with it, or an idea of ​​who might sing it when they wrote one. Having worked with Four Tops as backing vocals on (Brian) Holland And Dozier’s single “What Goes Up, Must Come Down” in 1963, the producers knew Four Tops was a hit in the making and fashioned a song on their new backing track for it. remarkably gifted quartet. (At other times, producers would work on a track for one act but put it off to another later.) Motown released the single in the United States on July 10, 1964, and by fall it was rolling high in the Billboard chart, although Brian Holland’s prediction did not come true – “Baby I Need Your Loving” only made 11th place. It sold a million copies, however, and the pop landscape was blessed with Levi Stubbs’ sore baritone for decades.

A moving miracle

The UK had yet to embrace the Detroit sound, so the record was not a hit there, leaving the door open for a cover version to make its mark. Merseybeat band The Fourmost did their best to replicate the magic of Motown, though Mike Millward’s game-changing attempt to deliver the lyrics with the stripped-down passion of Levi Stubbs proved unsuccessful. Fourmost’s version made UK No. 24. Meanwhile, back at Motown HQ in Hitsville, Holland-Dozier-Holland continued to craft Four Tops’ next single, “Without The One You Love” . Its lyrics opened with the line “Baby I need your good lovin’…”, a trick designed to remind fans that they already knew this band.

“Baby I Need Your Loving” had an afterlife at Motown. Marvin Gaye recorded it with two duet partners, Kim Weston (It takes two1966) and Tammi Terrell (Easy1969), and he appeared on Gladys Knight And The Pips’ silk and soul album (1968). Beyond Hitsville, covers included those of Johnny Rivers, OC Smith and a good disco makeover by Gayle Adams. But none captured the moving miracle that Levi Stubbs, Obie Benson, Lawrence Payton and Duke Fakir recounted in the dead of night after a visit to 20 Grand. The group would never look back.

Listen to the best of Four Tops on Apple Music and Spotify.

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uDiscover Music is operated by Universal Music Group (UMG). Some recording artists included in uDiscover Music articles are affiliated with UMG.

For the latest music news and exclusive features, check out uDiscover music. uDiscover Music is operated by Universal Music Group (UMG). Some recording artists included in uDiscover Music articles are affiliated with UMG.

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