The Four Tops – 1973 – Main Street People
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Review by Mark Brian Mathew
Whatever happened to the days we met on Main Street?
“Main Street People” kicks off with familiar street sounds, smooth vocal riffs and deep harmonies, all combined within a short introduction of the title track that leads with ease to the next song, the poignant mid-tempo “I Just Can’t Get You Out Of Mind”. Nine tracks further down the road the album finishes off nicely with the full-length rendition of “Main Street People”. What one can find inbetween is a flawless mix of R & B and pop, offering each song either; a cool arrangement, fine elements of lush orchestration, forceful soul rhythms, funky wah-wah guitars or smooth ballad vocals. Never neglecting the group’s trademark left-of-center harmonies and always matched by a skilled backing band in full swing, including the likes of Wilton Felder on Bass or Paul Humphrey on Drums.
A1 Main Street People (Intro) 1:42
A2 I Just Can’t Get You Out of My Mind 3:59
A3 It Won’t Be the First Time 3:53
A4 Sweet Understanding Love 2:59
A5 Am I My Brother’s Keeper 3:25
A6 Are You Man Enough 3:24
B1 Whenever There’s Blue 5:20
B2 Too Little, Too Late 3:20
B3 Peace of Mind 4:28
B4 One Woman Man 4:39
B5 Main Street People 3:22
We are left with a great metling pot of instrumental styles, a hip sound that has the Tops moving through a wide range of emotions. No proof that this album came about from the ripples caused by Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” but none the less it’s my belief that the songs on this album work much better back to back in the sense of a theme album, like crossroads all leading to the junction, instead of maybe trying to hit points in standing out as individual tracks. With this album on the player I’m easily transported to any given Main Street, seated outside a street corner café watching people passing by, displaying mental happiness, troubles, man-woman relationships and many more powerful vehicles for intense interpretations.
“Main Street People”, released by ABC/Dunhill with catalogue number DSX50144 in September 1973, is the 19th full-length studio album by the Four Tops and their second album away from Motown. Whether it was faith or just good timing, but with the Tops departing Motown in 1972 for ABC-Dunhill where they were assigned to writer-producers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, something new and fresh was in the air indeed. With all this fine talent together in one studio, they immediately had a success on their hands with the 1972 album “Keeper Of The Castle” and the million seller single “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I Got)”. “Main Street People” was the follow-up, with six of the eleven songs written by Lambert and Potter.
Back in the studio with the same musicians and arrangers, plus the label’s head of A&R, Steve Barri as third producer on board and with everybody around giving the Four Tops free reign to find their own comfort zones, everything seemed fit to pass perfectly. Unfortunately and maybe due to standing in the shadows of the previous album “Keeper of the Castle”, their second ABC LP met with less attention when first released, peaking chart positions US (66) and R&B (8). Three Songs were chosen as singles, the most successful being “Are You Man Enough“, a funky street track (“there’s not a street that you can walk…”) which served well as the theme song for the movie “Shaft in Africa”, scoring high on the R&B Charts (2) and US Charts (15). Second, “Sweet Understanding Love”, danceable and full of love-life, a song that no doubt could have walked out of the hit factory supplied in the 60s by Holland-Dozier-Holland, unfortunately was less succesfull, R&B (10), US (33) but at least also scored on the UK Charts (29). Last but not least “I Just Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind”, featuring a great performance by lead singer Levi Stubbs, certainly deserved to be a smash hit but unfortunately was even less successful, R&B (18), US (62). Other songs on the album are: “It Won’t Be The First Time”, a slow Pop number with plenty of harmony. “Am I My Brother’s Keeper”, written by Renaldo Benson along with his wife Valaida and Len Perry alias Lawrence Payton, Jr., has a strong social tune and the mood is warm indeed.
Side Two starts with the heavily orchestrated “Whenever There’s Blue” – in style, rhtyhm and mood one of my favorites. Levi Stubbs sings the lead clear and razor cut sharp (“walkin’ the street, got some cold lonely feet for my trouble….”) and benefiting finely from the background work by the other Tops. (“believe in yourself…”) “Two Little, Too Late” is a neat slow number, mellow and smooth. “Peace Of Mind”, written by Abdul Fakir, Renaldo Benson and Huey Marvin Davids (guitarist of The Contours) is forceful with a blend of Motown reminiscenes and Philly strings adding great support to lead vocals by Stubbs, plus interesting brief spoken sections by the other 3 Tops. “One Woman Man” is a great soul ballad, sweet as candy, with lead vocals by Lawrence Payton, Jr., written by Payton and Phil Townsend. A short saxophone solo on the closing section of the song unfortunately remains uncredited.
In my book the Four Tops, (Levi Stubbs, Lawrence Payton, Jr., Renaldo O.B. Benson, Abdul Duke Fakir), are one of the greatest groups to ever come out of Detroit consisting of four singers who made history with their music and their longevity, starting way back in 1953 and only being separated in their original line-up by the death of Lawrence Payton, Jr. in 1997. And no doubt, they have many fine albums to show for, favorites of mine include “The Second Album” (Motown 1965), “Night Lights Harmony” (ABC 1975) and “Indestructible” (Arista 1988) but “Main Street People” is something very special indeed. This LP smacks of intense care and concern and proves to be a healthy state of affairs. I once read somewhere that Levi Stubbs stated that he thought this was their best album. Agreed. And one more thing for sure: The Four Tops enjoyed life after Motown!
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