The Four Tops’ lead singer Levi Stubbs, who has died at the age of 72, always seemed to me to have a sound which was closer to that of deep soul than Motown contemporaries like Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye. I don’t know why, since he lived all his life in Detroit, but perhaps his early interest in jazz influenced his timing and phrasing.
For me, his death recalled Billy Bragg’s homage Levi Stubbs’ Tears, which in its most affecting version is intertwined with the Four Tops’ Walk Away Renee. It’s a sad, despairing song which captures the power of popular music to express meaning. The words of the Billy Bragg song are here: or you can watch it below.