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The Ultimate Collection: Four Tops

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Album Review

The Ultimate Collection series was a rare success from Motown, one of the first of the label's many compilation series to do justice to some of the finest performers, arrangers, and musicians of the soul era. Nearly every artist with an entry was given the luxury treatment, with a disc-filling running time, excellent compilation decisions, and a pleasing design scheme that reflected the artists in their prime. The Four Tops' entry is arguably the best in the series, since the 25 tracks prove the perfect length to summarize the group's decade at Motown. From 1963 to 1972, the group reached the R&B charts 28 times, and all but a very few are presented here (among the missing are three decidedly unnecessary covers: "MacArthur Park," "If I Were a Carpenter," and "River Deep — Mountain High"). Though the tracks aren't presented chronologically, thoughtful sequencing makes for an even better listen; The Ultimate Collection opens with "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," perhaps the ultimate pop single of the '60s, and flows smoothly through the best of their 1964-1967 prime: "Baby I Need Your Loving," "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)," "It's the Same Old Song," "Bernadette," and "Standing in the Shadows of Love." And though the hits began to dry up after the Holland-Dozier-Holland machine departed Motown in 1968, the Four Tops' later years are represented well with "It's All in the Game," "Still Water (Love)," "(It's the Way) Nature Planned It," and the driving non-album hit "A Simple Game." Unless you're the type of fan who needs the box set (2001's Fourever), this is all the Four Tops-on-Motown you really need to hear.


Formed: 1956 in Detroit, MI

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

The Four Tops' story is one of longevity and togetherness: these Motown legends teamed up in high school and spent over four decades without a single personnel change. In between, they became one of the top-tier acts on a label with no shortage of talent, ranking with the Temptations and the Supremes as Motown's most consistent hitmakers. Where many other R&B vocal groups spotlighted a tenor-range lead singer, the Four Tops were fronted by deep-voiced Levi Stubbs, who never cut a solo record outside...
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