Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops, is considered by many to be one of the greatest soul singers ever to step up to the mic. Detroit born and raised, Stubbs applied his baritone to some of the most driving and dramatic of Motown’s best and biggest hits of the ‘60s. And beyond that decade, every time you might have thought the Four Tops were finished as modern hit makers, relegated to the oldies circuit, they’d come up with another hit and win over a bunch of new fans. In each instance, Stubbs was up front, leading the charge with that voice, that force of nature.
In the later years of his career, Stubbs also served as a voice actor, playing the bloodthirsty alien houseplant "Audrey II" in the 1986 film version of Little Shop of Horrors, and the villainous, trash-talking Mother Brain in the video game-based animated series Captain N: The Game Master.
But it’s the music Stubbs made with the Four Tops that made him the legend he was, the legend we remember him being. Here are five great Four Tops hits, from three distinct eras, that prove there was never anyone who carried a soul or pop tune quite the way Levi Stubbs did.
"It’s the Same Old Song": The heartbreak at the center of this Holland-Dozier-Holland number might fell weaker men, but not Stubbs. Here, he takes a chance hearing of a favorite tune (“The one we danced to all night long”), notes all the pain it now brings, and turns his story into yet another sad tune.
"Reach Out I’ll Be There": By 1967, the Four Tops had been making hit records for three years, but nothing hit as hard as this one. Stubbs sounds like he could take on an army and his only weapon would be the way he sings “Darling!” in each pre-chorus.
"Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)": It was 1973 and R&B had taken on the air of sophistication, with creamy production values and tempos that predicted the upcoming disco craze pretty accurately. The Four Tops, who were as bedrock and basic as soul music got in the ‘60s, said, “Yeah, we can do that, too.”
"When She Was My Girl": Once again, Stubbs turned a song’s inherent heartbreak into pure soul poetry, and the Four Tops had an unlikely hit (No. 1 on the R&B chart) in the most unlikely of years - 1981. When he bears down on that chorus, you feel every tear he’s shed.
"Indestructible": The Four Tops’ final Top 40 hit was this synthy 1988 track, which included vocals from Smokey Robinson (which Lawrence Payton mimes in the video), and one of Stubbs’ mightiest later-year performances. Seriously, if you don’t get chills when the chorus melody modulates and he sings, “So strong we can generate a wall of solid love nothing can penetrate,” we feel very sorry for you.