The Four Tops have always represented the ultimate human success of Motown. From before they signed with Berry Gordy’s now famous record label in the early days to the day lead singer Levi Stubbs passed on in 2008,the vocal quartet were an example of enduring together through the good and not so good times. Until each member died,the Four Tops never had a change in lineup. This might’ve lead to their longevity as hit makers too. With post Motown smashes such as “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” and the Top 10 R&B smash hit in the Philly inspired uptempo number “Catfish” in 1976.
It was around 1995 or so that I began exploring Motown acts beyond their reputation as “hitsville”. One day during that summer I was visiting an antique store with my family. And they had a selection of used vinyl. Among them were two ABC lable era Four Tops album in 1976’s Catfish and it’s followup from the next year entitled The Show Must Go On. Both of these records were filled with singable and highly danceable songs. Played both to the degree that they’re both new fairly scratchy. The song that’s continued to endure so strongly for me is the title song from the 1977 album The Show Must Go On.
A dramatic,descending horn fanfare opens up the song-just before the accompanying strings and hard swinging 4/4 drum beats kick in to the tune of a jazzy three by three not bass line. On the refrain of the song,Stubb’s customarily powerful voice thunders in with a highly rhythmic piano,Clavinet and and pumping disco bass propel the groove forward. The intro appears as a buffer between each refrain-only with a vocal part. The bridge of the song strips down to the drums,slapping bass and Clavinet before slowly building the horns and strings back into the musical conversation before it fades away.
With group member Lawrence Payton helping out with the arranging on this song, it’s right up there with some of the finest Philly style funky disco records of the mid to late 1970’s. The strings,horns and other instrumental sweeteners have a strong power that draws the listener into the intensely powerful rhythm section. The rhythmic Clavinet on this song is a funkified beast all of it’s own-played so low and so heavily it almost sounds like genuine percussion. As time had marched on,my appreciation for this groove after learning so much about what goes into creating music has only increased!