Monday, April 18, 2011
Old Song Review: The Four Tops - Bernadette
While I take great pains to be on the razors edge of indie music, that doesn't mean my radio dial is forever tuned into the trendiest. There are plenty of songs I don't like, and when this happens, I have no choice but to take my ears elsewhere. My tried and true back-up is 60's on 6, and they never let me down. There was a time when I was ashamed of enjoying Oldies, and my sister and I would roll our eyes as hard as we could and sigh heartily from the backseat whenever our parents would turn it on. But today, I don't think any decade in music can hold a candle to it. It's been too long since I've shared a great song on here.
When one considers Motown, they inevitably think of The Supremes and The Temptations, and for good reason. They put it on the map, and are responsible for a staggering number of Top 10 hits. But there were several other groups whose music continues to influence, but remain in the shadows. The Four Tops had two Billboard No. 1's I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) and Reach Out I'll Be There, and a string of other hits deep into the 80's, but in my opinion, Bernadette is their crowning achievement. Off their 1967 release Reach Out, it is the perfect evolution of Motown music, maintaining the dense efficiency while never feeling rushed or forced. Frontman Levi Stubbs sings with James Browns intensity but in a deeper register, giving his words added urgency. Gorgeous backing vocals add depth and give the song a steady rudder, while Stubbs is free to make his desperate case for her love. At around 2:30, the song reaches what seems to be a traditional ending with a brief coda and fade out, before bursting out for one more chorus. Of course false endings like this are commonplace today, but it was an edgy choice at a time when most songs followed a very rigid formula. Now its just another reason to love it.