The Four Tops – “Standing in the Shadows of Love”

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The Four Tops – “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” Pop # 6, R&B 2

By Joel Francis

Holland-Dozier-Holland had so much fun and success with the arrangement of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” they decided to do it again as “Standing in the Shadows of Love.” Unlike most sequels, this one was just as good and just as fun.

Despite the upbeat arrangement and dance rhythms, this song is as bleak as they come. Check the opening lyrics: “Standing in the shadows of love/getting ready for the heartache to come,” or “You’ve taken away all my reasons for living/when you pushed aside all the love I’ve been giving.” This stuff makes the Cure’s “A Letter to Elise” look like a nursery rhyme.

Levi Stubbs dumps a lifetime of anguish into his vocals. Fortunately, the Funk Brothers take away a lot of the pain. Check out the instrumental version of “Shadows’ from the original master tapes on the second disc of the “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” deluxe edition. The performance there is so strong and tight, the number practically stands on its own. The combination of the Funk Brothers and Four Tops on this song is so propulsive, it’s baffling to realize the song never hit No. 1.

The Jackson 5 put their spin on the song in 1971, but the lads lacked the gravitas to give a convincing performance. Barry White, a man with considerably more weight and emotion in his delivery, added an extended instrumental opening to his 1973 version. The song was turned into a dance number in the ‘80s by France Joli and attempted by Hall and Oates on their 2004 album.

When Aerosmith released this single “The Other Side” in 1990, Holland-Dozier-Holland thought the song bore enough similarity to “Shadows” that they threatened with lawsuit. Aerosmith caved, giving HDH a shared credit with Steven Tyler and song doctor Jim Vallance.

One thought on “The Four Tops – “Standing in the Shadows of Love”

  1. In one of the many Motown books I’ve read, there came an instance where Gordy is quoted as telling his writers, “Make it that it’s happening right now; not ‘my girl left me,’ but ‘my girl is leaving me.'”

    There’s no better example of that direction than HDH’s “Standing In The Shadows of Love.” Not only does Levi sound panicked, but also angrily insulted! “Don’t your conscience kinda bother you?! How can you watch me cry after all I’ve done for you?!”

    It’s little wonder that the Tops’ world wobbled with the walk-out of HDH. They’d still have good records to come, at Motown and elsewhere, but no other writers would ever again as consistently mine Levi’s facility for drama.

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