By Scott L. Miley
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
Listen to the pitter-patter start of the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll be There.”
It rises in intensity until singer Levi Stubbs starts his plea, “Now if you feel that you can’t go on because all your hope is gone ...”
Or there’s the build-up of instruments that starts “I Can’t help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch).” And there’s Stubbs all but dropping to his knees in “Shake Me, Wake Me.”
There was a sense of urgency in the sound of The Four Tops, the Detroit-based hit machine that had more than 20 records chart in the top 40 during the 1960s and ‘70s.
The style came from different sources.
“First of all, it comes from Levi. Levi’s voice had the passion,” said Abdul “Duke” Fakir, 77, the surviving member of the Tops.
But by serving as back-up vocalists, the Tops learned studio techniques, he said.
“That helped us learn mic control and how to put feeling into it without going off-key. We learned how to record doing background work before we had out hits and that really helped us learn to really almost cry on records with Levi singing, especially for him. Being Jackie Wilson’s cousin, he learned a lot from him.”
Fakir will be with The Four Tops when they perform two concerts Saturday, 7:30 and 10 p.m., at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino. Tickets are still available.
Fakir and high school chum Levi Stubbs formed the group in 1954 after meeting Lawrence Payton and Renaldo “Obie” Benson at a birthday party. Next year will be the quartet’s 60th anniversary.
“We are going to bash it in 2014,” said Fakir, talking with The Herald Bulletin from his Detroit home. He has hopes for a tour, album and the release of his autobiography.
“When we started out, after about two or three months we realized we wanted to make a lifetime career out of this ... which we thought would be maybe 20 years.”
The foursome was fortunate to work Las Vegas and back-up vocals before landing at Motown in Detroit.
In 1965, the group was looking for a follow-up to their first No. 1 song, “I Can’t Help Myself.” But after a two-week recording sessions, they didn’t feel another No. 1 was in the mix. They had even experimented on one song, “Reach Out,” trying to find the sound by mixing singing and spoken vocals.
About to give up, the group was called into Motown mogul Berry Gordy’s office. He told them he had their next worldwide hit. He played their just-recorded version of “Reach Out.” The Tops told him it would sink like an anchor, Fakir recalled.
Two weeks later, Fakir heard the song on the radio.
“It just jumped off the radio. I was so excited, I turned my car back toward the studio and ran upstairs to Berry’s office.
“I opened the door and shouted, ‘Don’t ever ask our opinion. Just do what you do.”