Friday, October 24, 2008

Levi Stubbs leaves a legacy

A short time after one of his contributing songwriters (Norman Whitfield) died, the time came for Levi Stubbs, whose rich vocal presence led the Four Tops.

In a mark of my persistence, to get my favourite songs I had to buy three separate compilations. Early Classics has Baby I Need Your Loving (see an early video here). Motown's Greatest Hits has Walk Away Renee (heard here), a much stronger cover of a Left Banke original. By the early 70s, the Four Tops - like a lot of their stablemates - had left Motown, for ABC/Dunhill. From that period comes Keeper Of The Castle (heard here), from an eponymous compilation (not to be confused with the original eponymous album!).

An interesting rarity is a single they released in 1971, a version of MacArthur Park, which didn't make it onto the mid-period compilation. Stubbs' performance of itself is an inevitable improvement on Richard Harris'; it can be heard here, or seen in a later-period live performance.

It's notable that the Tops were together in an unchanging lineup for their entire history (since high school); a longevity feat matched by few.

And finally, here's Billy Bragg, evoking Stubbs' pleading delivery in a for a bit of comfort in tragedy in Levi Stubbs' Tears. When the world falls apart, some things stay in place...

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