Monday, 28 October 2013


We've made some progress this I know
look around you'll see it show
men on the Moon
and we watch it on TV
We move ahead at breakneck speed
ain't no end to the things we need
all for the betterment of you and me
But if someone should ask
would it be too great a task
to see the world the way it used to be

Whatever happened to the days we met on Main Street
all we ever wanted to do was sing and dance
Maybe we could go back again and look for Main Street
but sad as it may be, people, we never get the chance

I swear we're always on the run
it's an endless chase to find the sun
and what do you have at the end of a long, long day
You got your dreams in stereo
you go to bed with the late late show
but deep in your heart the good times have gone away
It comes as no surprise
when you cut it down to size
you're not the only one who's gonna say

Whatever happened to the days we met on Main Street
all we ever wanted to do was sing and dance
Maybe we could go back again and look for Main Street
but sad as it may be, people, we never get the chance

[from the lyrics of "Main Street People"]

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 Sixties 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. ( the United States, they were second to The Temptations...), and began experimenting with more mainstream pop hits.

They scored hits with their versions of "If I Were a Carpenter" and "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.

"Main Street People" inner gatefold

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.

Their 1970 album "Still Waters Run Deep" was an early ancestor to the concept album. 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.

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".

"Main Street People" original inner sleeve

The following review of "Main Street People" was published on the 15th September 1973 issue of Billboard:

«There is an infectious mellowness to the group's sound which provides a distinctiveness which allows this vocal quartet to stand out. The songwriting team of Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter accounts for six of the eleven tunes. They are also listed as producers with Steve Barri. With all this fine talent, the LP smacks of intense care and concern. The songs are powerful vehicles for intense interpretations. The themes are man-to-man relationships, trouble and how to overcome it, mental happiness, solid man-woman relationships. There are many fine elements in the orchestral arrangements which reflect many of the pop, soul and subtle rock influences in today's music. This is a melting pot of instrumental styles, coupled with a vocal cauldron of excellent ensemble and solo singing.»

Four Tops as they appear on the back cover of "Main Street People"

"Main Street People" contains the following tracks:

01. Main Street People (Intro) (1:44)
02. I Just Can't Get You Out of My Mind (4:01)
03. It Won't Be the First Time (3:56)
04. Sweet Understanding Love (3:04)
05. Am I My Brother's Keeper (3:26)
06. Are You Man Enough (3:27)
07. Whenever There's Blue (5:22)
08. Too Little, Too Late (3:30)
09. Peace of Mind (4:30)
10. One Woman Man (4:39)
11. Main Street People (3:23)

All tracks were remastered in October 2013, they are available as a single FLAC lossless format file or high-quality 320 Kbps MP3 file. Both formats include complete printable artwork as PDF files.

Before you burn 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. Here's an option for FLAC to WAV conversion and one for MP3 to WAV conversion.

As usual, please have a look at the comments for the download links.

"Main Street People" was released by ABC/Dunhill with catalogue number DSX 50144 in September 1973. Just like the previous album "Keeper of the Castle", it was produced by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, who were also responsible for writing about half of the tracks.

The album begins with a short introduction of the title track which then will be offered in complete form at the end of the second side. "Main Street People" is a flawless mix of R&B and Pop with a good arrangement, perfectly carried by Lawrence Payton, Jr.'s robust vocal and more smooth vocal riffs from the rest of the group, a social commentary rich in nostalgia and deep harmonies. The song was also included on the flip side of the "Sweet Understanding Love" single.

"I Just Can't Get You Out of My Mind" was chosen as the third and last single taken from the album and was released in January 1974, backed with "Am I My Brother's Keeper" on Side B. The song is a poignant mid-tempo that offers a cool arrangement by Dennis Lambert and Don Hockett, and features one of the best performances of lead singer Levis Stubbs; easily the best track on the album in my humble opinion!

"It Won't Be the First Time" is a slow Pop number that brushes MOR territories, with a nice strings and horns work by Jimmie Haskell and plenty of harmonies and background vocals sustaining Levis Stubbs in an all too easy task.

The album reverts to a more excited phase with "Sweet Understanding Love", which was also released as a single in September 1973. The song was written by Renaldo Benson along with his wife Valaida and Motown veteran Ivy Hunter. So danceable and full of life, this is an irresistable love song that could've walked off a '60s Holland-Dozier-Holland album!

"Am I My Brother's Keeper" was written, once again, by Renaldo Benson along with his wife Valaida, this time joined by Len Perry, an alias for none less than Lawrence Payton, Jr.... This number is another thoughtful and emotional social commentary where lead vocals are divided equally between O.B. Benson, Lawrence Payton, Jr. and Levi Stubbs; the mood is warm and melodic, and the song fully displays the group's trademark left-of-center harmonies as well as the skill of the backing band.

Side One ends with "Are You Man Enough", a funky track that slyly combines a lush orchestration with Shaft-style wah-wah guitars, and served as the theme song for the movie "Shaft In Africa". This song is another highlight from the album and was released as a single backed with "Peace of Mind" in May 1973, a few months before the album. It reached #2 on the American R&B chart and #15 on the American Billboard chart.

Advertisement for the "Shaft In Africa" soundtrack - From the June 6, 1973, issue of Billboard.

Side Two starts with the heavily orchestrated "Whenever There's Blue", arranged by Dennis Lambert and Don Hockett. The song is another Lambert & Potter original with lead vocal by Levi Stubbs.

The less than essential "Too Little, Too Late" is a mellow slow number orchestrated by Jimmie Haskell, whose contribution in the economy of the album seems to focus on the slower and sad ballads. Levi Stubbs sings the lead benefiting of the usual background work by the other Tops.

The group lays down some forceful Soul music in "Peace of Mind", a track written by Abdul Fakir, Renaldo Benson and Huey Marvin Davis, who is best remembered as guitarist of The Contours, the group responsible for Motown's first million-selling single "Do You Love Me?". The song's got a hip sound, a blend of Motown reminiscences and Philly strings that features lead vocal by Levi Stubbs and interesting brief spoken sections by the other members. Another number worthy of the podium!

"One Woman Man" was written by Lawrence Payton, Jr. under his Len Perry alias along with Phil Townsend, a member of a street corner group known as The Sparrows. The arrangement was created by Gil Askey, while Payton delivered the lead vocal with no other member of the group in sight. A short saxophone solo on the closing section of the song remains uncredited...

The album ends with the full-lenght rendition of "Main Street People" that features lead vocal by Levi Stubbs.

The following videos offer a preview of the remastered album; for this purpose I chose my favourite tracks: "I Just Can't Get You Out of My Mind", "Sweet Understanding Love", "Am I My Brother's Keeper", and "Peace of Mind", enjoy!

Here's the credits and personnel list of "Main Street People" as they appear on the inner gatefold of the album:

Main Street People (Intro)
(Dennis Lambert / Brian Potter)
Rhythm arranged by Dennis Lambert
Strings arranged by Jimmie Haskell
Lead Vocal: Lawrence Payton, Jr.

I Just Can't Get You Out of My Mind
(Dennis Lambert / Brian Potter)
Arranged by Dennis Lambert and Don Hockett
Lead Vocal: Levi Stubbs

It Won't Be the First Time
(Dennis Lambert / Brian Potter)
Rhythm arranged by Dennis Lambert
Strings and Horns arranged by Jimmie Haskell
Lead Vocal: Levi Stubbs

Sweet Understanding Love
(Renaldo Benson / Val Benson / Ivy Hunter)
Arranged by Gil Askey
Lead Vocal: Levi Stubbs

Am I My Brother's Keeper
(Renaldo Benson / Val Benson / Len Perry)
Arranged by Gil Askey
Lead Vocal: O.B. Benson, Lawrence Payton, Jr., Levi Stubbs

Are You Man Enough (From the MGM Film "Shaft In Africa")
(Dennis Lambert / Brian Potter)
Arranged by Dennis Lambert and Don Hockett
Lead Vocal: Levi Stubbs, Lawrence Payton, Jr.

Whenever There's Blue
(Dennis Lambert / Brian Potter)
Arranged by Dennis Lambert and Don Hockett
Lead Vocal: Levi Stubbs

Too Little, Too Late
(Dennis Lambert / Brian Potter)
Rhythm arranged by Dennis Lambert
Strings and Horns arranged by Jimmie Haskell
Lead Vocal: Levi Stubbs

Peace of Mind
(Abdul Fakir / Renaldo Benson / Huey Davis)
Arranged by Gil Askey and Jimmie Haskell
Lead Vocal: Levi Stubbs

One Woman Man
(Len Perry / Phil Townsend)
Arranged by Gil Askey
Lead Vocal: Lawrence Payton, Jr.

Main Street People
(Dennis Lambert / Brian Potter)
Rhythm arranged by Dennis Lambert
Strings and Horns arranged by Jimmie Haskell
Lead Vocal: Levi Stubbs

Produced by: Steve Barri, Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter

Recording Engineers: Phil Kaye, Howard Gale

Mixing Engineers: Phil Kaye, Steve Barri

Recorded at: ABC Recording Studios, Inc., Studio A, Los Angeles, California

Arranged by: Jimmie Haskell, Gil Askey, Dennis Lambert, Don Hockett

All vocal by the Four Tops: Levi Stubbs, Lawrence Payton, Jr., Renaldo "O.B." Benson, Abdul "Duke" Fakir

Musical Coordination: Lawrence Payton, Jr.

Musicians include:

Drums: Paul Humphrey
Bass: Wilton Felder
Guitars: Larry Carlton, Ben Benay, David T. Walker, Joe Smith
Keyboards: Michael Omartian, Chip Crawford, Michael Wofford, Dennis Lambert
Percussion: King Errisson, Gary Coleman

Concert Master: Sid Sharp

From left to right: Abdul "Duke" Fakir, Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Brian Potter, Dennis Lambert, Steve Barri, Levi Stubbs and Lawrence Payton, 1972

The following playbacks of "Am I My Brother's Keeper" and "One Woman Man" were performed by the Four Tops for the American musical variety TV show Soul Train; they were broadcasted on April 20, 1974 and are available courtesy of YouTube. "One Woman Man" features solely Lawrence Payton.

More information about "Main Street People", Lambert & Potter and the Four Tops is available here:

If you have any other useful information about the Four Tops and "Main Street People" - especially corrections and improvements to 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!

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