Monday, January 12, 2009

Motown Records 50th Anniversary: The Four Tops "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)"

50 years ago, Berry Gordy Jr. received $800, and started Motown Records. Today, a ceremony was held at Hitsville to mark the occasion-

Today is Motown Day in Detroit, as declared by officials from the city, county, state and federal government this morning at a press conference at Detroit's Motown Historical Museum on the 50th anniversary, to the day, that Berry Gordy received the $800 loan with which he launched his record company.

The festivities at Hitsville -- which included Detroit Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr., U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick, D-Detroit, and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano -- launched a year (at least) of activities commemorating Motown 50 all around the world. Today from noon to 4 p.m. and the rest of the week during those same hours, Motown luminaries -- like Duke Fakir of the Four Tops, Rosalind Holmes of the Vandellas, and musicians Uriel Jones and Dennis Coffey -- will be stationed around the museum telling stories about their Motown years. Martha Reeves of the Vandellas (also a member of the Detroit City Council) was in Germany, but will take part in the tours this week as soon as she gets back in town.

Diana Ross performs at the Palace tonight as well.

For Motown's official birthday, I wanted to honor the guy that I share a birthday with - Levi Stubbs. Levi passed away last fall, which sent me on a mission to find the song above on YouTube. As I read the remembrances of the group and the man, I realized that only his character surpassed his talent. While other Motown artists fell to the trappings of fame, money and ego, Levi stayed true to his group, his city, and his family. It was never "Levi Stubbs & the Four Tops". When Motown Records moved to LA, the group stayed in Detroit. 3,200 people showed up for his "homegoing" last October, including just about every living luminary connected with Motown - a testament to how much the man was honored in that community of people.

The Four Tops line-up performed together for an amazing forty four years - starting as high school students in Detroit, and ending with the death of Lawrence Payton in 1997. Today, only Duke Fakir remains. Read the Tops full story here.

"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" was the Tops first No. 1 single, hitting the top of the charts in June of 1965, one week after I was born. Holland-Dozier-Holland rip off Holland-Dozier-Holland here; the chord progression is almost exactly the same as "Where Did Our Love Go", but the rhythm section sets it apart enough to make it an entirely different song - and it's one of my all-time favorites, as my neighbors would tell you. They are probably sick of hearing it - but I think I will go play it again, real loud, in honor of the memory of Levi, and in honor of this historic day.

Happy Birthday Motown!