Levi Stubbs 1936-2008

I really don’t mean to turn my blog into the obits page.  Really, I don’t.  They say that famous deaths “come in threes.”  If so, this one is number two.  Levi Stubbs, the golden-voiced baritone who led the Four Tops to Motown glory from the 60’s to the 80’s has died at the age of 72.

The list of Four Tops hits is legion:  “Baby I Need Your Loving,” “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” Standing in the Shadows of Love, “Bernadette,” “Still Water (Love)”, and “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got.”  Stubbs did lead vocals on each one of those listed above, and there were numerous other Four Tops hits in which Stubbs did not do lead vocals.

I think, though, that my favorite work by Levi Stubbs was without The Four Tops.  He provided the voice of Audrey II, the man-eating plant who called himself “The Mean, Green Mother from Outer Space” in the 1988 film Little Shop of Horrors.

If you missed this sleeper starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia with classic bit parts and cameos from Christopher (“Count Rugen”) Guest, John Candy, Jim Belushi, and most deliciously, a scene in which Steve Martin plays a leather-wearing sadistic dentist, and Bill Murray portrays his masochistic patient.  At last, we learn the answer to the ancient joke set-up “A sadist and a masochist meet on the street….”  See for yourself:

But I digress.  Even though Levi Stubbs was a natural baritone, most of the Four Tops songs he performed were written in the higher tenor range.  Little Shop of Horrors allowed him to be at his bari- best.  I’ll let you cogitate on that as I bow out to Audrey II.

Three of the Four Tops are gone now, as is Stubbs’ superstar first cousin, Motown and R&B legend Jackie Wilson (“Higher and Higher”).  The Nightshift has gotten even sweeter in sound now.  Rest well, Levi.  Well done.

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