In 1954, Levi Stubbs formed a singing group with three high school friends called The Four Aims. Two years later, they changed their name to The Four Tops. Over 43 years, those four performed together, with Stubbs in the front. Initial recording efforts were not successful, but after they signed with Motown, the hits came one after the other. Stubbs was known for his passionate voice. Although a baritone, he was given songs written for tenors, to get that desperate passionate sound heard on classics like “(Reach Out) I’ll Be There” and “Bernadette”. Stubbs became one of the most distinctive voices in soul music, but spurned chances to go solo out of loyalty to his friends. He also became a noted voiceover talent, providing the voice of Audrey in the 1986 remake of the movie Little Shop of Horrors. Stubbs kept on singing for the Tops until he suffered a stroke in 2000 and passed away in 2008. In honor of Stubbs on his birthday, please grab your iPod or MP3 player, hit shuffle and share the first 10 songs that come up.
Arcade Fire – Vampire/Forest Fire (Arcade Fire): Win Butler is practically crooning at the beginning of this long track from the Fire’s debut EP. The first half is a pretty folk-rock tune, but after the instrumental break, the band breaks out the rock power, a portent of future songs.
The Jesus & Mary Chain – The Living End (Psychocandy): The pounding drums and squalls of feedback on this minimalist rock tune. This finds the midpoint between Ramones and Velvet Underground.
Hoodoo Gurus – Zanzibar (Stoneage Romeos): The depth of the Gurus’ debut album is apparent. This would be one of the best cuts on most albums, but on this super strong collection, this slightly psychedelic mid-tempo cut is outshone by at least half a dozen songs.
Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby – In My Room (Two-Way Family Favorites): The husband and wife team take on The Beach Boys on this track from their covers LP. Rigby’s tender lead vocal is pushed to the background, under the prominent guitar.
Madness – Believe Me (One Step Beyond): Even on their first album, Madness showed their love for music hall and pop. This has a slight ska rhythm, but it’s really just bouncy Britpop with Mike Barson’s piano really driving the track.
Mega City Four – Thanx (Terribly Sorry Bob): The early MC4 was strongly inspired by Husker Du, with the blend of strong melodies and quick tempos. But they weren’t imitators, as Wiz’s melancholy and sincere vibe but a distinct stamp on the material.
Johnny Bristol – Hang On In There Baby (Can You Dig It?: The ‘70s Soul Experience): Bristol got his start as a songwriter at Motown, going out on his own in the early ‘70s. This song is a lush soul ballad, sounding like a cross between Al Wilson and Barry White.
Stevie Wonder – Contusion (Songs in the Key of Life): This lively jazz-funk jam is part of the super diverse Side 1 of what I believe to be the greatest double album of all time. Yes, even better than Reflektor.
Astrid – Hard to Be a Person (Play Dead): Nifty use of the electric rhythm guitar reverb as a percussion sound. This is a really cleverly arranged twee pop tune, with some creative bass playing and a simple rise-and-fall melody.
Bob Seger – Get Out of Denver (Seven): Some critics have called this the best Chuck Berry homage ever written. It definitely follows in the “Johnny B. Goode” mode, with Seger penning some great rhythmic lyrics. A classic.