What's on your mind? What is the problem?
Is your love dying? Is there another?
Just let me know it, no need to suffer, no, no, no
Let me know the truth, let me know the truth
If this is really the end and I must start all over again
Well, let me know the truth
Let's talk it over, let's make it clear
No more confusion, just be sincere
It's nothing new for love to die
You've got your life to live baby, I've got mine
Let me know the truth, let me know the truth
If this is really the end and I must start all over again
Well, let me know the truth
Well, I'm trying to say what's on my mind
to be honest with you baby, all the time
But now I feel that 'that something' is wrong
and only you can say where our love has gone
No need to worry if we have changed
for we are human, darling, and that's the game
If our love is gone, long far away
maybe it's time for us to separate now
Let me know the truth, let me know the truth
If this is really the end and I must start all over again
Well, let me know the truth
Tell me the truth, tell me the truth now
Tell me the truth, tell me the truth
Tell me truth in the morning, tell me truth in the evening
No need to worry
Tell me the truth, tell me the truth now, baby
Tell me the truth, tell me the truth now, now, now
[from the lyrics of "Let Me Know the Truth"]
One of Motown's most consistent hitmakers and its longest lived lineup (over four decades), the Four Tops were the most stable vocal groups to emerge from the label in the '60s, charting with scores of upbeat love songs featuring Levi Stubbs' rough hewn lead vocals.
The Four Tops were a product of Detroit's North End: Levi Stubbs and Abdul "Duke" Fakir sang together in a group while attending Pershing High School. Renaldo "Obie" Benson and Lawrence Payton were boyhood friends and attended Northern High together in Detroit too. At the insistence of their friends, they performed at a local birthday party and decided to remain together christening themselves The Four Aims.
Roquel "Billy" Davis, who was Lawrence Payton's cousin and sometimes sang with the group as the fifth Aim, sent a demo tape to Chess Records in Chicago. They were sent bus tickets and invited to audition.
It seems that Chess was more interested in Davis' writing skill than the group. However Davis' persistence ended up with them being signed to Chess Records. In 1956 they changed their name to Four Tops to avoid confusion with the The Ames Brothers, another well-estabilished vocal group.
Over the next seven years, the Tops endured unsuccessful tenures at Chess, Red Top, Riverside Records and Columbia Records. Without any hit records to their name, they toured frequently, developing a polished stage presence and an experienced supper club act. In 1963, Berry Gordy, Jr., who had worked with Roquel Davis as a songwriter in the late '50s, convinced the Tops to join the roster of his growing Motown record company.
Gordy had them record "Breaking Through" for his experimental Workshop Jazz subsidiary. Later that year they were finally directed toward contemporary soul. Under the wing of Motown's top production and recording team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, the Four Tops were launched with "Baby I Need Your Loving", which went to #11 in 1964.
Over the next eight years The Four Tops appeared on the charts almost thirty times, and Levi Stubbs became an international star and an influence on singers from the '60s to the present time.
After scoring their first #1 hit, the often-recorded and revived "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" in June 1965, the Four Tops began a long series of successful hit singles. Among the first wave of these hits were the Top 10 "It's the Same Old Song", "Something About You", "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)", and "Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever".
Like many other Motown acts, the Four Tops became popular in major nightclubs around the world. In 1967 they had hits with "Bernadette", "7-Rooms of Gloom" and "You Keep Running Away". By now, the Tops were the most successful male Motown act in the U.K. (...in the United States, they were second to The Temptations...), and began experimenting with more mainstream pop hits.
They scored hits with their versions of Bobby Darin's "If I Were a Carpenter" and The Left Banke's "Walk Away Renée". These singles and the original "I'm In a Different World" were their last hits produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland, who left Motown in 1967.
Without Holland-Dozier-Holland, the quality of the Four Tops' output began to decline, and hits became less frequent. The group worked with a wide array of Motown producers during the late 1960s, including Ivy Hunter, Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, Norman Whitfield and Johnny Bristol, without significant chart success.
Their first major hit in a long time came in the form of 1970's "It's All In the Game", produced by Frank Wilson. Wilson and the Tops began working on a number of innovative tracks and albums together, echoing Whitfield's psychedelic soul work with The Temptations.
"Night Lights Harmony" original inner sleeve
In 1970, with its well thought out originals and expertly considered covers, their "Still Waters Run Deep" LP was of the earliest Soul concept albums. It also served as an inspiration for Marvin Gaye's 1971 classic album "What's Going On", the title track of which was co-written by "Obie" Benson.
In addition to their own albums, the Tops were paired with The Supremes for a series of three albums: "The Magnificent Seven" was released in 1970, "The Return of the Magnificent Seven" and "Dynamite!" followed in 1971. While the albums themselves did not do well on the charts, "The Magnificent Seven" featured a Top 20 version of Ike & Tina Turner's "River Deep - Mountain High", produced by Ashford & Simpson.
In early 1972 the Four Tops recorded "Nature Planned It" with producer Frank Wilson, it was their last Motown album for more than twenty years. This release was the subject of a previous post on Stereo Candies, just have a look here if you're interested.
During that year, Motown started relocating to Los Angeles and all its artists had to move as well. Many of the older acts opted to stay in Detroit, including The Funk Brothers backing band and the Four Tops. The Tops departed Motown for ABC/Dunhill, where they were assigned to songwriters-producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter.
Moving to another label rejuvenated the group's career and when "Keeper of the Castle" was released as a single in October 1972 it became their first Pop Top 10 hit since "Bernadette" in 1967, with "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I've Got)" also entering the Top 10 in a short time.
Four Tops as they appear on the back cover of "Night Lights Harmony"...
Following the success of the "Keeper of the Castle" LP (...enjoy it here...), in 1973 the Four Tops returned to the ABC Recording Studios under the supervision of Steve Barri with the same team of musicians, arrangers and producers to work on their 19th full-lenght studio album entitled "Main Street People".
The album (...available here courtesy of yours truly...) was released by ABC/Dunhill in September 1973. Just like their previous effort, it was produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who were also responsible for writing about half of the tracks.
"Are You Man Enough", the theme song to the movie "Shaft In Africa", turned out to be the first of three hit singles to emerge from "Main Street People"; it reached #2 on the American R&B chart and #15 on the American Billboard chart. The infectious "Sweet Understanding Love", which would be the group's last Top 40 Pop Hit for ABC, and the equally catchy follow-up "I Just Can't Get You Out of My Mind" both had a feel remarkably similar to some of the Tops' work for Motown.
In late 1973 / early 1974 the group was busy at the ABC Recording Studios again working on their third album for the label. "Meeting of the Minds" was finally released by ABC/Dunhill in a colourful and slightly psychedelic cover in April 1974; it was the Tops' third consecutive album produced by Steve Barri, Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter.
"Meeting of the Minds" (...available here...), was the last true Soul album recorded by the Four Tops before the advent of the Disco era. The album spawned two singles in the U.S.: "One Chain Don't Make No Prison" reached the R&B Top 10 in early May peaking at #3, while the midtempo "Midnight Flower" peaked at #5 in the Billboard R&B Chart during autumn. A third single, "The Well Is Dry", was released in the U.K. only, to coincide with a British tour.
...and another picture taken during the same session.
Cashing on the late success of the "Midnight Flower" single, a live album was released in October 1974. The aptly titled "Live & In Concert offered a superb set which was nicely split between the group's Motown classics and their more recent hits. Although offering a modified tracklist which omits the original introduction and one complete song, this is currently the only mid-'70s Four Tops album available on CD...
In 1975, ABC Records shuttered Dunhill and the acts, including the Four Tops, were sent to the parent label. "Nights Light Harmony", the subject of this post, was released in June 1975: since Lambert & Potter had in the meantime founded their own label and moved to Capitol as a production team, the album was produced by Steve Barri along with Four Tops' own Lawrence Payton, Jr., who became more and more involved in production and writing.
Four Tops, 'their four latest album', U.K. advert, 1975
"Night Lights Harmony" contains the following tracks:
01. Seven Lonely Nights (3:03)
02. Mama You're All Right With Me (3:18)
03. Is This the Price? (3:12)
04. We All Gotta Stick Together (4:51)
05. I've Got What You Need (4:29)
06. I Can't Hold On Much Longer (4:00)
07. (It Would Almost) Drive Me Out of My Mind (3:40)
08. I'm Glad You Walked Into My Life (Dedicated To Stevie) (6:03)
09. Let Me Know the Truth (5:52)
All tracks were remastered from the original vinyl in April 2016 and are available in FLAC lossless format, along with complete artwork reconstruction and printable PDF files.
Before burning this album on CD-R using the provided CUE file you will need to convert the original files to WAV format using an appropriate software. Please have a look here if you need some help.
As usual, please have a look at the comments for the download link.
"Night Lights Harmony" was released by ABC Records in May 1975 with catalogue number ABCD-682. The album offers a gorgeous cover - depicting what I believe are two birds-of-paradise set against a New York-ish night scene - whose author is sadly left uncredited in the liner notes.
As a first digression, let me point you to this very original interpretation by Texan painter Natalie Fletcher that I discovered gathering information for this post.
Recorded at ABC's own Los Angeles studios, the album entered the Billboard charts in mid June but, compared to the previous Tops' ABC-Dunhill releases, it didn't do so well and is commonly considered the beginning of the group's commercial decline of the mid-70s...
The following short text is excerpted from the liner notes written by David Nathan for the "Keepers of the Castle - Their Best 1972-1978" compilation:
«I guess you could say we are having to look for a new concept before we start recording again,» was Levi's comment as 1974 drew to a close and "Night Lights Harmony" should have done the trick. Attempting to recapture the old Motown flavour, "Seven Lonely Nights" (and the flipside "I Can't Go On Much Longer") did moderately well as a first single, and while it may have appealed to die-hard Four Tops fans, it sounded remarkably dated alongside other hits of the day. The follow-up, "We All Gotta Stick Together" had even less bite and one more subsequent single from the album ("Mama You're All Right With Me") gained the lowest chart position the group had endured since their 1964 chart debut with "Baby I Need Your Loving".
"Seven Lonely Nights" single, German edition, front cover
Well, despite the low sales and the absence of Lambert & Potter in the production room, I would like to point out that "Night Lights Harmony" is still a big favourite of mine and I feel more inclined to agree with the review written by Soulmakossa on Rateyourmusic, which is included here below courtesy of the author:
«I'm surprised by the low ratings for this album. While it's miles away, stylistically, from their Motown recordings, the Four Tops' fourth album for Dunhill is a very appealing smooth soul outing nonetheless.
The sounds emanating from Philadelphia evidently inspired the Tops for "Night Lights Harmony", with a slew of uptempo, string-heavy soul pop confections making up the bulk of the LP.
The #13 R&B hit "Seven Lonely Nights" bumps joyfully along and has Levi Stubbs firing on all cylinders as Obie Benson, Abdul Fakir and Lawrence Payton provide their catchy harmonies. That same recipe is used to cook up the stuttering, heavily orchestrated fingersnapper "Is This the Price?" and the proto-disco vamp "I've Got What You Need". A last slice of fast-paced Philly-styled soul is delivered on "(It Would Almost) Drive Me Out of My Mind".
Then there are a few gorgeous slowburners: the slightly political "We All Gotta Stick Together", a #17 R&B hit, hints at Marvin Gaye's seminal "What's Going On?" preaching, complete with gospel organ and church harmonies. Equally appealing is the heartfelt ode to mothers everywhere on "Mama You're All Right With Me", a mid-tempo, highly melodic bit of testifyin'.
But amidst the smoothness there's also some funk. The Tops pay tribute to Stevie Wonder on the synth-heavy romp "I'm Glad You Walked Into My Life" - check out the Stevie-esque harmonica solo! - and reserve the fiercest groove for the closing cut "Let Me Know the Truth".
However, the tune that really blew me away and warrants buying this LP is the brooding lament of "I Can't Hold On Much Longer". It's pop-soul perfection: listen to Levi and the other fellas wail and moan over an infectious, mid-tempo beat that's draped in brass and strings. A gem of a song.
Highly recommended for those into mid-70s smooth soul with a steady groove... and dig that cover!»
Between May 1975 and February 1976, Blues & Soul magazine dedicated two reviews to "Night Lights Harmony" - one when it was first made available as an import, and one when it was officially released in the U.K. a few weeks later - and also took care about all the singles excerpted from the albums. Most of the reviews are favourable, so I'm including all of them here for your reference:
Seven Lonely Nights / I Can't Hold On Much Longer (U.S. single release)
Back after a rest come the Four Tops and they switch over from Dunhill to the main ABC label as they step out with two tracks from their upcoming "Night Lights Harmony" album. Actually this is right back to the vintage Tops bag with Levi in tip-top form on a bouncy item that comes right out of that Motown box.
Seven Lonely Nights / I Can't Hold On Much Longer (U.K. single release)
This could so easily have been an old Motown Tops' recording merely updated at mixing stage - right down to that bump-bump rhythm pattern and Levi's voice straining above all of the musical activity. Though it will obviously depend on radio and disco support, I would venture to suggest that this will put the talented quartet right back on top again.
Night Light Harmony (U.S. album release)
The Tops have been somewhat quiet of late and their last couple of sets have found them meandering away from perhaps what their staunchest fans liked them most for. But this new set puts them firmly back where they perhaps best belong - with four cuts sounding like updated Motown recordings! They are "Seven Lonely Nights", "Is This the Price?", "I've Got What You Need" and "(It Would Almost) Drive Me Out of My Mind" whilst there is a definite unique quality to the other uptempo cut "Let Me Know the Truth" complete with its complex but appealing rhythm changes. If you care for the orthodox Tops sound then this album will suit you down to the ground though I do approve, too, of the slower and more sophisticated material - such as "Mama You're All Right With Me", the inspirationl "We All Gotta Stick Together" and "I'm Glad You Walked Into My Life (Dedicated To Stevie)". Although it may not carry them right back to the crest, this is definitely a step back in the right direction for the Tops. ****
Night Lights Harmony (U.K. album release)
Since their early sales explosion at ABC, the talented Tops have tended to veer away from the sound that their fans wanted - and it didn't come as a surprise that their last set, "Main Street People" bombed out. Quite rightly, it sent the group back into the woodshed to rethink their direction and this album suggests that it was worth it. Whilst it may not be a vintage Tops album, it's certainly a step in the right direction - that direction being almost back to the sound that was so successful at Motown for them. Their current single is "Seven Lonely Nights" and it has more than a hint of the old Motown sound - well, this album also boasts three others in that same appealing vein, "(It Would Almost) Drive Me Out of My Mind", "Is This the Price?", "I've Got What You Need" , complete with its clever little instrumental break. The ballad material is perhaps more sophisticated than their Motown slowies, which does illustrate the group's progression in real terms. Sadly, the sound may be too dated for Stateside appeal but I wouldn't be surprised to see it put the Tops nearer the top in this country than they've been for a while. ****
We All Gotta Stick Together / (It Would Almost) Drive Me Out of My Mind (U.S. single release)
The Tops turn in one of their rare ballad offerings - and it's not Levi who takes lead. Take in the message because it's worth noting. Probably not the one to carry the Detroit foursome back to the top, though.
Mama You're All Right With Me / I'm Glad You Walked Into My Life (Dedicated To Stevie) (U.S. single release)
The Tops have fallen away of late and though both sides of this latest release have actually been charted, neither ranks with the group's finest. First off is a laid-back ballad that is easy on the ear and appeling - but it doesn't take a supergroup like the Tops to sing it, it's that simple. Almost the same could be said for the flip. They seem to have lost their way and perhaps a new approach would inject some excitement into them.
"Let Me Know the Truth", Spanish single, front cover
The following clips offer a preview of the remastered album: "Seven Lonely Nights", "I Can't Hold On Much Longer", "Mama You're All Right With Me", "I've Got What You Need", "Let Me Know the Truth" and "(It Would Almost) Drive Me Out of My Mind", enjoy!
Here's the credits and personnel list of "Night Lights Harmony" as they appear on the back cover of the album and on the labels:
Produced by Steve Barri and Lawrence Payton, Jr.
Arranged by Michael Omartian
Recording and mastering at ABC Recording Studios, Inc.
Recording engineers: Phil Kaye, Roger Nichols
Mixing engineer: Roger Nichols (The Immoral)
Mastering engineer: Phil Cross
Drums: Ed Greene
Bass: Max Bennett, Wilton Felder
Guitars: Ben Benay, David T. Walker, Lee Ritenour, Dean Parks, Jay Graydon
Keyboards: Michael Omartian, Clifford Carter
Percussion: Victor Feldman, King Errison
Horns: Ernie Watts, Charles Findley, Paul Hubinon, Jack Kelson, Jr., Lew McCreary, Fred Selden
Strings: The Sid Sharp Strings
Concert Master: Sid Sharp
Additional background vocals: Ginger Blake
"Seven Lonely Nights" single, French edition, front cover
The following interview was conducted by Anita Ashton with Renaldo 'Obie' Benson during the party for the Four Tops' 21st anniversary. Once again - see previous interview at the bottom of this post - Obie talks about the plans to set up a record label for young talents: the Four Tops had long aspired to own their own label and believed ABC executives had promised to get one off the ground. The deal never materialized and acrimony set in... The interview was published on issue #175 of Blues & Soul magazine in December 1975.
The Four Tops: 21 Years and more to come, late 1975
Amidst journalists, champagne corks popping, cameras flashing and the continual blurred mumble of voices, I managed to lure Renaldo 'Obie' Benson into a quiet corner of his luxury suite as The Inn On The Park Hotel, Park Lane, to discover what had been happening with the Four Tops since 'B&S' interview with them earlier this year.
«Well right now we are celebrating our 21st Birthday or Anniversary together, whichever you wish to call it; hence the beautiful cake which is a gift from our record company here in the U.K., Anchor» informs Obie, passing a glass of champagne. «A lot has been happening this year, in fact, we have been very busy; for instance earlier this year we went to the Far East, touring Japan and Hong Kong. After which we did a very extension tour of the college campuses throughout the States and of course, right now we are here in England. At which point,» stresses Obie «on behalf of all of The Tops I would like to say that all the people we have met are so warm and beautiful over here, and with the inspiration that you all give it has given us the go to go on and keep on going. Especially the enthusiasm portrayed at our shows and concerts when you all get up and enjoy yourselves really getting the feel of things. I feel that it is a compliment to me and my brothers.»
«This tour has been beautiful right down the line.» Obie's reaction to Britain brought about the question, of would they like to visit here more often, the reply was quite adamant: «Once a year for you and us is enough, in the nicest possible way, of course. The reasons are quite clear,» states Obie «if we came too often people would get bored with us and not be bothered to check us out when we did come over, ain't that right!»
The Four Tops are greeted at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, March 1975
«Our year of work is not yet over for us. When we get back we have one day at home before we fly off to Pittsburg, followed by two more days off before working a club in our home town Detroit, which isn't so bad; at least we can stay at home and be with our families from which we are so often parted. New Year's Eve will be really something - we are out in Disney Land; what better place to celebrate it.»
What a hectic life they lead, still kept so busy after 21 years, what an achievement! Obie pauses to sip at his champagne and carries on with details of their future plans, of which he appears very excited: «We plan to stay in show business as long as the fans respond and enjoy what we have to offer to them. But in the process of continuing, we are trying to establish a recording company in Detroit as it is overflowing with talent just waiting to be discovered.»
«lncidentally,» stresses Obie as a matter of interest, «a lot of the Philly Sound, with the aid of Gamble and Huff came from Detroit. At present we are looking among record companies for a production deal and very soon we hope to open up a 24 track recording studio. Hoping this all comes off, of which we are more than hopeful, you can rest assured that our next album will be at least 90% produced and written by the Four Tops» smiles Obie.
The Four Tops performing live in the mid-70s
So watch out for more than just performing from the Tops Inc.: «Actually, right now we are managing a number of younger acts and are on the lookout for more potentials all the time wherever we go. In fact,» states Obie «if anyone has anything of interest, i.e. tapes that you feel we would be interested in or like an opinion on, if you send them to us we will advise you what to do with them or what we can do for you, no matter whether you live in the U.K. or in the States. Please be patient though, don't forget our tight work schedule, but we will reply, even if it takes a little time» says Obie raising his champagne glass yet again.
«We feel that decision is 90% of success and if the artist has any potential we will be striving to get them into their particular bag. After all rhythm is four-four and that's what it's all about - right!» laughs Obie. «Because of our interests in acts and producing, we will probably cut our work schedule down to 8-9 months a year, as opposed to working flat out for 12 months, so that we can concentrate whole-heartedly on these interests. It is just impossible to give all one's worth when working without a break.»
After 21 years together, I enquire just how long they feel they can carry on singing. «Well,» smiles Obie «I guess we'll sing until our voices wear out. However, we still endeavour to stay in the business, as well as being performers and managers we will be businessmen; especially as we feel that having been in the business so long we know a little bit more than the average lay-man who steps in from outside the business, as being a performer you get a better perspective and insight to what goes on behind the scenes.»
Four Tops and Roquel 'Billy' Davis sometimes in the mid 70s
Moving onto what their act consists of these days brought about that 'toothpaste smile' of Obie's: «Lawrence 'Larry' Payton Jr. right now is concentrating very strongly on producing and is singing much more lead in our act, Abdul 'Duke' Fakir and l will also be doing more lead work; this has always been a wish of levi Stubbs and these wishes are at long last being fulfilled», Obie explains.
«Although our act is basically the same, with all our oldies - of which we can never get away from, because you can guarantee if you plan to leave a number out it will be requested - our choreography is changing very slightly, we pick up new ideas from a programme in the States called "Soul Train". One new routine we picked up from there is taken from a dance called "The Robot"; everybody's doing it, it’s great fun, let me show you...» so l get a quick demonstration from Obie!
«I would like all 'B&S' readers to know that our success and the 21 years we have spent together, is down to the fact that there has never been any animosity or jealousy, furthermore we respect each other as men, each other's views, privacy and by having a good working relationship and full cooperation at all times» remarks Obie with all sincerity.
It must be very true, after all there aren’t too many groups who can claim such a long-lasting success without a change of member. Staying on a serious note Obie says «If ever the day comes that performing with each other becomes a job, we will stop singing and pack up. My belief is that music is love and when that love ceases to exist there will be no more music!» What a beautiful statement, thank you Obie. The secret of The Four Tops 21 years together seems to be friendship - think about it!
The Four Tops by Harry Goodwin
More information about "Night Lights Harmony" and the Four Tops is available here:
If you have any other useful information about this post or if you spot any dead links, please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!