The Four Tops - “Reach Out I’ll Be There”
From the album Reach Out (1967)
My past gripes about oldies radio notwithstanding, it did introduce me to a wealth of great music that has stood the test of time. For instance, it was on the local oldies station that I first heard the Four Tops sing “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” and even when I was 10, that song just sent shivers down my spine. And it still does.
Actually, the sound of the track was kind of haunting and spooky, but that somehow made it even better. The opening bars, with the flute floating over the galloping, clicking baseline, and then the husky voice of Levi Stubbs suddenly jumping into the mix, front and center, catapulting the song forward - it was just an awesome sound to my young ears. But the minor chords the song was built on had an almost threatening, ominous vibe, and the music seemed to not entirely sync up with the optimistic message Stubbs was offering up, one of love and protection to the audience he was singing to.
It sounded almost like a man singing out of panic and desperation, rather than a place of strength and security. But the performance was so strong, and the melody so captivating, that the eerie nature of the track just added to its appeal. Those were the feelings the song evoked for me, twenty-plus years ago, and it has consistently been one of my favorite songs, from anyone, ever since.
Interesting trivia note on this one: several years back, I read that Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys had this song in mind when he was writing Good Vibrations. I never really heard it before - it’s hard to reconcile the light surf pop of the Beach Boys with the light soul sound of Motown, on first glance - but after I listened to the minor-chord intro of “Vibrations,” with that ethereal flute gliding over it, and then “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops, I never heard either song the same way again. And then it all made complete sense to me.
In any case? You’ve been warned.