I Can’t Help Myself as I have more oldies rock today, a song from a different time era, but this song has the intensity that songs of today just don’t have any more. ‘Bernadette’ is a 1967 hit song recorded by the Four Tops, a group that defined and created the environment of soul for the Motown label. The song was written, composed and produced by the legendary Motown team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland, Motown’s main songwriting team, who wrote most of the hits for the Four Tops, including ‘Baby I Need Your Loving’ and ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’. The song reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was The Four Tops’ final Top 10 hit of the 1960s. On the soul chart, ‘Bernadette’ went to number three. It also reached #8 in the UK on its first release and was a hit again in 1972, reaching #23. ‘Bernadette’ was the Tops last Top 10 hit until “’Keeper of the Castle’ took off in 1972 and ‘Bernadette’ was also the Tops next-to-last collaboration with Holland-Dozier-Holland. The HDH-Four Tops swan song ‘7-Rooms of Gloom’ hit No. 7 on the R&B charts in the summer of 1967.
Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs who is considered to be Motown’s greatest male vocalist delivers a passionate vocal on this song and the background vocals are done by Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir, Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson, Lawrence Payton, and the female session group that sang background vocals known as The Andantes which includes Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow, and Louvain Demps. The Funk Brothers (group of Detroit-based session musicians) provided the lush orchestration of instrumentation and virtually every musician who ever played on a Motown track was considered to be a Funk Brother. The Funk Brothers were paid by the day, their aim was to record as many songs in a day as possible to accommodate all the Motown artists. The Funk Brothers and the background singers the Andantes gave their all on dozens of records for Motown, but they eventually faded into obscurity. There are very few singers who could evoke the kind of divine desperation that Levi Stubbs brought when he sang with the Four Tops. Levi Stubbs stood out as one of the most exciting singers on the Motown roster, with a talent for putting his own stamp on a song. He thrived on songs that were difficult to sing, which made him a good fit for song writing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Levi Stubbs was born Levi Stubbles on June 6, 1936 in Detroit and he also died in Detroit on October 17, 2008. Levi had a cousin who was two years older than him, the soul singer Jackie Wilson who was nicknamed ‘Mr. Excitement’. Like many black American teenagers in the early 1950s, he and three of his school friends Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir, Lawrence Payton and Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson formed a vocal group called, The Four Aims, and they were mainly playing school graduation dances and church functions. With harmonies similar to that of The Inkspots, they quickly moved on to the jazz and R&B circuit, working with Billy Eckstine and Count Basie, as well as Betty Carter, Della Reese, Brook Benton and with Wilson himself.
It was suggested that The Four Aims might be confused with the then popular Ames Brothers a singing quartet from Malden, Massachusetts who had the 1949 single ‘I’m Just Wild About Harry’. They chose their new name because they were aiming for the top, thus they became The Four Tops. In 1963, the Four Tops signed with the Berry Gordy recording company Motown. Unlike the Temptations, they had a fierce loyalty that prolonged their longevity and they stayed together like granite, having no personnel changes and they remained together as a group for decades till Lawrence Payton died in 1997. Unlike The Supremes and The Miracles, their lead singer never felt the need to step out on his own.
At first the Four Tops spent several months providing back-up vocals to other Motown groups, including the Supremes on ‘When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes’, but in 1964 they recorded their first Motown song ‘Baby, I Need Your Loving’ which reached #11 on the charts. The Four Tops landed 45 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 from 1964 to 1988. The group’s repertoire includes soul music, R&B, disco, adult contemporary, doo-wop, jazz, and show tunes. In the 1990s, the group was performing up to 200 times a year, often with the Temptations, on the oldies circuit.
‘It’s the Same Old Song’ has an interesting story, as The Tops were looking for a quick hit to follow-up their previous song ‘I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)’ that Motown released. Duke Fakir and Lamont Dozier were both a little tipsy and Lamont was changing the channels on the radio when he said, “It sounds like the same old song.” Then Lamont said, “Wait a minute” and he took ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ and he reversed it using the same chord changes. The next day they went to the studio and recorded it, and then they put it on acetate, chief engineer Lawrence Horn oversaw the creation of some 300 hand-cut discs, and within 24 hours, about 1500 copies of the new single were in the hands of many a key radio disc jockey across the country. The Four Tops continued to crank out the hits with ‘Something About You’ and “’Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)’. In 1990, with 24 Top 40 pop hits to their credit, the Four Tops were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. The Four Tops also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and were ranked #79 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
There was actually more than one Bernadette, the songwriter Lamont Dozier explained that there were three Bernadettes, and they were all different girls. This interesting tidbit was kept to themselves as Eddie, Lamont and Brian each had their our own Bernadette. ‘Bernadette’ has the greatest pause of silence in any song, as it hangs in the air leaving you in suspense and then it falls back to earth like an explosion sending debris flying at you at incredible speeds. The song is notable for its false ending, where the instruments drop out and the background singers hold a chord. Lead singer Levi Stubbs then shouts ‘Bernadette!’ and the song resumes, ending in a fade-out. You could hear the tear in his voice, it is kind of a plaintive cry of anguish and a pain, as he is urging his girl to stick with him and ignore the advances of other men. ‘Bernadette’ provides burning romantic intensity, where a guy has found desire and jealousy in his girl. Bernadette is like this perfect girl who everyone seems to want and this guy says that he lives only to hold her, while some other men just long to control her. He is going to tell the world that she belongs to him, as he finds peace in her arms, she gives him joy in his heart and that is why he will treasure her, for the only joy in life is to be loved. Bernadette means more to him than a woman was ever meant to be.
Levi Stubbs provided the voice of ‘Audrey II’, the alien plant in the 1986 musical horror comedy film Little Shop of Horrors.
Bernadette, people are searchin’ for the kind of love that we possess
Some go on searchin’ their whole life through
And never find the love I’ve found in you
And when I speak of you I see envy in other men’s eyes
And I’m well aware of what’s on their minds
They pretend to be my friend
When all the time they long to persuade you from my side
They’d give the world and all they own for just one moment we have known
Bernadette, they want you because of the pride that gives
But Bernadette, I want you because I need you to live
But while I live only to hold you some other men
They long to control you
But how can they control you Bernadette
When they can not control themselves, Bernadette
From wanting you, needing you
But darling, you belong to me
I’ll tell the world you belong to me
I’ll tell the world, you’re the soul of me
I’ll tell the world you’re a part of me
In your arms I find the kind of peace of mind the world is searching for
But you, you give me the joy this heart of mine has always been longing for
In you I have what other men long for
All men need someone to worship and adore
That’s why I treasure you and place you high above
For the only joy in life is to be loved
So whatever you do
Bernadette, keep on loving me, Bernadette, keep on needing me Bernadette
You’re the soul of me
On that dream, you’re a ? to me
And Bernadette, you mean more to me
Than a woman was ever meant to be