Motown Summer of ’65 #2: The Four Tops On Top!


For the next 4 or 5 posts I’m going to write about what is widely acknowledged as the peak of the Motown Sound: The Summer of 1965. By this point the label had formulated all of the stylistic elements that it would be classically defined by, and produced it’s most memorable material

45 years ago this week, Motown scored one of the most impossible torch passings in pop music. The Supremes fifth #1 hit, “Back In My Arms Again” passed the #1 pop torch to The Four Tops for their first #1 hit “I Can’t Help Myself” Both songs were also from the same pen and production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, and both we’re on their way to becoming million selling singles and chesnut (albeit “Back In My Arms Again” tends to rest in the shadows of the 4 other #1s The Supremes had between August 1964 and June 1965).

And because of this torch passing, the pop criticism that The Motown Sound was indeed that, just a sound, began in earnest from “legit” music critics and from African Americans thinking that Motown had genuinely sold out by this point. Where I think weirdly you just need to take a listen to these songs back to back to tell the immediate difference.

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“Back In My Arms Again” is set to a strutting tempo versus “I Can’t Help Myself” having a vaguely uptempo swing tempo. Mike Terry doesn’t bless The Supremes number with one of his brilliantly ironic sax solos (other than to punctuate certain lines) and there isn’t those strings in The Supremes song either. No Supremes hit single would feature a string section until “I Hear Symphony”

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Perhaps as a tongue in cheek parody of the criticism, over the 4th of July weekend 1965 Holland-Dozier-Holland came up with the coyly titled “It’s The Same Old Song.” It peaked at #5 pop before the summer was out.

I’ve always had more of a fondness to “The Same Old Song” over the massive hit preceding it. But that’s just me.

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Nonetheless all of this great material made it’s way to The Four Tops Second Album Which, I was going to write about as a Summer of ’65 post all it’s own, but 1) It wasn’t released until Veterans Day 1965 (Oops) and contains the excellent “Something About You” which was released in September.

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Album review of that, like it’s Supremes Counterpart, coming soon.

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