100 Essential CDs – Number 87 –Four Tops – The Look Of Love

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The Look Of Love – The Four Tops (Motown 1993) 

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I have just the two Four Tops CD’s in my collection .  I have already sung the praises of Their Greatest Hits  but I also have a lot of time for this 1993 12 track compilation which saw a lease of life on the budget Spectrum/Karussell labels.  With both of my Four Tops CDs in my Top 100 this should suggest I should explore deeper into this band’s back catalogue.  The Four Tops studio albums released on Motown throughout their time on the label tended to be a mix of a few singles hits, a couple of non-hit tracks and a few cover versions.  And really, that also sums up this compilation.

Two of the three hits on this CD are the mighty “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” (US#6, UK#6- 1966), the equally as good  “Seven Rooms Of Gloom” (US#14, UK#12 -1967) two excellent examples of Holland-Dozier- Holland at their best and these together with the Ivy Jo Hunter/Stevie Wonder song “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever” (UK#21-1966) are duplicated on “Their Greatest Hits” (and would be on most other hits compilations). For more info on these tracks you might like to take a look at my previous review .

The track which for me is worth the cost of this CD alone is another Holland-Dozier-Holland track “Where Did You Go?” This powerhouse of a track was amazingly hidden away on a B-side to their 1965 single “Ask The Lonely” (US#24).  After H-D-H had established the Four Tops in the US pop charts with 1964’s “Baby I Need Your Loving” (US#11) you would have thought they would have been first choice for the follow-up.  There was no such thing as a shoo-in at Motown, Berry Gordy would hold weekly record meetings where a group of Motown staffers and artists would rate and select material for release and this was the main reason why there was so much fantastic Motown material left unreleased to be discovered over the years.  I’m not sure whether this release would have had to face the “Quality Control” panel but if it did they opted for an Ivy Jo Hunter and Mickey Stevenson song for the A-side which, although a great song, a somewhat overwrought ballad with a great performance from Levi Stubbs and a surprising amount of female back-up from the Andantes, failed to build upon the impact of the debut hit.  This was probably not the first or last time that HDH seethed at a Motown decision.  Both of these tracks were produced by Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland and appeared on the debut Four Tops album released in 1965.  “Where Did You Go?” does have the “Baby I Need Your Loving” feel in the verse but by the chorus there’s glissando piano and a hook sung by the three back-up Tops of  “Only your warm embrace/Can fill this empty place “ which really gets under the skin.  There’s a very grandiose feel to this track which I found very appealing- it lacks the big sound that Holland-Dozier-Holland found with their later run of big hits for the group but it is up there amongst their best.

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The two other less familiar songs on the CD are “I’m Grateful” and “The Key”.  “I’m Grateful” was the closing track on their appropriately named “Second Album” also produced by Brian and Lamont and was written by one Holland, brother Eddie, with Cleo Drake and George Fowler. This call and response song is a good old Motown stomper. “ The Key” was also a B-side to a fairly unsuccessful 1969 single release and appeared as the opening track on the not terribly successful “Four Tops Now” album.  This was released during the slight career slump the group faced when HDH left Motown.  It saw a struggle to get the magic back for the Tops by exploring a range of musical styles, producers and writers.

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The Four Tops had a background in jazz/easy listening type singing and when Berry Gordy signed them to Motown this was the direction he believed he would guide them in.  (The same was thought about Marvin Gaye).   This background made them confident performers in a range of styles and there are occasionally some very strange choices of songs on their albums.  A few years back Motown put out a “From Broadway To Hollywood” album of show/film tunes covers from the vaults and the Four Tops show they can even turn a hoary old show-tune like “Mame” into something credible.  This is mainly because of the Levi Stubbs voice.  On this CD a couple of the cover tracks are sung in harmony with no real discernible lead, just a blend of the four voices, which for me does not work as well.  Title track “The Look Of Love” is one of these but is saved by a strong production.  I don’t think however it is the definitive version of this song.  The other Bacharach/David track “This Guy’s In Love With You” always works best with a casual, almost throwaway performance – such as Herb Alpert and Dionne Warwick turn out.  The Four Tops (especially lead vocalist Levi Stubbs) couldn’t really do casual.  He pours so much into every song wrenching out every ounce of emotion and can even turn something really schmaltzy like Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey” into something which sounds like a deep soul ballad.  There’s a likeable enough cover of the Monkees “Daydream Believer” and a very good version of the Doors “Light My Fire” where the backing Tops come into their own with their “sizzle me” refrain.

I like this compilation because it shows the range of this very talented group from the hits, to the odd rarer album track and b-side to their versions of contemporary hit songs.

The video is a rare promotional Motown video which features the Four Tops in jokey horror house mood and contains a fabulous example of  how to make a bobble hat look cool

“The Look Of Love ” is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £3.37 and used from £0.01.  It is only available used in the US from $0.01.

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4 thoughts on “100 Essential CDs – Number 87 –Four Tops – The Look Of Love

  1. I read this and picked up my phone, brought up Amazon and I have ordered the album. This sounds so good I have to have it. You’re costing me a fortune, lol. At least it’s not a book. I never tire of hearing The Four Tops. Your reviews are simply too good.

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  2. The CD arrived on Saturday and I’ve been playing it in the car to and from work. Not sure the people in the car beside me at the lights appreciated it today as I like to sing along at the top of my voice and had forgotten the window was open. I really enjoyed this album. Honey was a revelation, I had only ever heard the Bobby Goldsboro version before, this gave it some depth and took it to a new level, it’s still sad and still brought a lump to my throat, not a good idea to play just as I’m parking at work. On the whole it’s a very good album and I couldn’t find anything I didn’t like, there’s usually one track I skip on a CD. Thank you for reviewing this, if you hadn’t I would have missed a good album.

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