20 ESSENTIAL ALBUMS
Who: The Four Tops.
What: The sixth album by the other Motown group sent into the sales stratosphere by the company’s Holland/Dozier/Holland writing/producing team. Reach Out contained the Tops’ three consecutive Top 10 hits of 1966-67 (“Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Standing In The Shadows Of Love,” “Bernadette”) as well as a further three Top 20 entries: “7 Rooms Of Gloom,” “Walk Away Renee,” “If I Were A Carpenter.” (For more on the Four Tops, read here.)
When: Most of Reach Out was made between July 1966 and March 1967. “Reach Out I’ll Be There” – widely considered to be one of Motown’s finest hits – was the first of the album’s dozen tracks to be recorded, “Cherish” the last. One track, “Wonderful Baby,” was originally recorded by the Tops with the song’s writer/producer, Smokey Robinson, in late 1964. He remade it with the group in October 1966.
Where: Motown’s historic Studio A on West Grand Boulevard was where Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, who produced most of the Reach Out material, worked with the Four Tops. However, vocals for “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” were taped during the first Motown session at the Golden World studios on Detroit’s Davison Avenue on October 19, 1966. Berry Gordy had bought Golden World just weeks earlier; at Motown, it soon became known as Studio B.
Why: “Reach Out I’ll Be There” was a global smash for the Tops and Motown, so the follow-ups were top-priority – as was the album. The latter was released July 17, 1967, shortly after “7 Rooms Of Gloom” had hit the Top 20 and while its flipside, “I’ll Turn To Stone,” was climbing the Billboard Hot 100. Reach Out reached Number 11 in September ’67 and spent more than a year on the charts. It was the second most-successful album of the Tops’ career. The first? Their Greatest Hits.
What else: The Four Tops became hugely popular in Britain in late 1966, sparked by “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and cemented by a nationwide concert tour – promoted by the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein – in early ’67. Later that year, Motown’s U.K. partner, EMI Records, wanted to sustain the group’s popularity going into the holiday sales season, and from Reach Out, it chose “Walk Away Renee” as a single release. By mid-January 1968, it was in the Top 3 of the British charts – at which point, Motown in the U.S. followed suit, releasing “Walk Away Renee” as a 45. It traveled into the Top 20 there by March.
What are the 20 most essential Motown albums? It’s a difficult choice, but this is ours, picked and presented through the course of this 60th anniversary year. Each album is featured with its background story, keyed to a relevant date in its history. This is not a countdown, leading to a “winner.” It’s just a way to showcase some of the finest music ever made. After all, isn’t that why you’re here?