“Standing In The Shadows Of Love” — The Four Tops

This might surprise you…it certainly surprised me…but Motown songwriting and production legends Holland-Dozier-Holland were only the 2,543rd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, achieving that iconic status back in 2015.

It’s always nice when your creative work gets that level of recognition, of course…even if, as in this case, that’s several years later than you should have been officially designated as an icon of the entertainment industry.

But I was a little surprised it wasn’t until 2015 that Motown’s premier songwriting and production team was fully embraced by the entertainment industry they’d contributed so much to.

Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland were responsible for many of the biggest hits of the 1960s and almost single-handedly invented the Motown sound. Their contribution to the world of music and entertainment was nothing short of immense.

They worked with The Supremes, the Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, the Isley Brothers and many more.

And Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland wrote and produced hits like “You Can’t Hurry Love”, “Reach Out I’ll Be There”, “Heatwave”, “How Sweet It Is (To be Loved By You)” and “This Old Heart of Mine”…alongside dozens of other chart-toppers.

Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland were the composers and producers in the team, Eddie Holland wrote the lyrics.

It’s only a very slight exaggeration to say that without Holland-Dozier-Holland we wouldn’t think of the Motown record label’s output in the same, almost reverential way we do today.

Pull up any “Motown Greatest Hits” listing and you can’t help but notice just how many of Motown’s best-known hits have the names of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland against the songwriting and production credits.

With a track record like that, I was more than a little surprised that it took from the early 1960s through to 2015 for Holland-Dozier-Holland to get their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I wouldn’t decry anybody’s creative output as everyone awarded a star on the Walk of Fame has made a significant contribution to the popular culture of their time.

But all things being equal, I would have rated Holland-Dozier-Holland’s contribution to life and culture more highly than, say, Tony Danza’s. Indeed, I’m sure Tony Danza would recognise that himself.

Tony Danza’s popularity, principally from 1980s sitcom “Taxi” (in which he was great, by the way — it was one of my favourite programmes at the time), resulted in a star being awarded to him in 1988…some 27 years before Holland-Dozier-Holland were given the same recognition.

Now there may have been all sorts of reasons for that, and I’m not trying to slight Tony Danza or the awarding committee in any way but, however you look at it, taking 50-odd years from their heyday in the 1960s to recognise Holland-Dozier-Holland’s contribution to popular music…well, that just seems at least 40 years too long from my perspective.

The creative output of Holland-Dozier-Holland is so immense, it left me with a big problem for this article…how do you choose just one tune from the comprehensive musical heritage of Holland-Dozier-Holland?

Over the years they worked together, Holland-Dozier-Holland had 35 Top 10 singles…13 of them Number Ones. And I bet you can sing along with every one of them.

Not only were the songs immense in their own right, when you consider the talent which performed Holland-Dozier-Holland’s songs, you’ve got some of the greatest singers and musicians ever to walk into a recording studio to choose from.

So, rather than one of the more obvious choices I’ve already mentioned, I’m going to select one of my favourite Holland-Dozier-Holland song’s which tends to get a lot less airplay than some of the other songs in their back catalogue.

It’s “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”, a Billboard Number 6 from 1966 for the Four Tops.

Levi Stubbs gives his usual impassioned lead vocal on the track, a tale of love gone wrong. Naturally, production, orchestration and arrangement is well up to the high standards we associate with the golden age of Motown.

I particularly like today’s song because Eddie Holland used a great metaphorical device in his lyrics…and I always like a good metaphor…

He wrote about “standing in the shadows of love”, which is a wonderful turn of phrase. Like all great metaphors, you can instantly attach your own meaning to that expression, even if you’ve never heard it before.

And it’s a “story” song, which I always like because the challenges of telling a complete story in 3 minutes or so (more like 2 minutes 30 seconds in this song…they didn’t hang around in the Motown studios…) are considerable.

The Four Tops get through their story in record time because Eddie Holland doesn’t waste a single word in his lyrics.

The first verse of “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” more or less tells the whole story in 29 words. That’s lyric-writing genius…

I’d run but there’s nowhere to go
‘Cos heartaches will follow me I know
Without your love, the love I need
It’s the beginning of the end for me

The Four Tops get to the emotional heart of the story straight away and don’t let up on the emotions until the final notes of “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” fade away some 2 minutes and 30 seconds later.

Eddie Holland used this approach a lot in his lyrics for the Four Tops because their lead singer, Levi Stubbs, had a powerful voice which conveyed rough-hewed emotion perfectly, and the strength of the backing vocals was such that The Four Tops could keep the emotions bubbling away right through to the end of their songs without running out of steam.

All alone, I’m destined to be
With misery my only company
It may come today, it might come tomorrow
But it’s for sure I ain’t got nothing but sorrow
Now don’t your conscience kind of bother you
How can you watch me cry after all I’ve done for you

The combination of Eddie Holland’s well-crafted words and Levi Stubbs’ powerful voice means “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” might sound like an unlikely way to record someone’s experience of having their heart broken.

But it’s surprisingly effective, and wouldn’t have made nearly such a big impact if Levi Stubbs had just been moping around crying into his tea in the manner more commonly found in songs about heartbreak in the 1960s…and, indeed, ever since…

“Standing In The Shadows Of Love” is a tremendous song and well worth that star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Holland-Dozier-Holland all by itself, never mind the hundreds of other songs they’ve given us over the years…the soundtrack to the 1960s…the soundtrack to Motown Records…the soundtrack to the newly in-love and the freshly heartbroken for over five decades.

Here’s The Four Tops with the Holland-Dozier-Holland song “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”…

If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here…https://open.spotify.com/track/7mO2VLBa4sB7hnUYlGb5kg

Without words, it’s just a nice tune. Add words — now you’ve got a song. And songs can change your world. I write about some that changed mine.

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