"On Top" ( originally Motown 647 ) was a commendable effort from the group, appearing the summer of 1966. It carried the singles "Shake Me Wake Me," and "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever." "Shake Me" was a true hit, but in comparison with the rest of the group's run of singles, "Sweeter" must be considered a dud, reaching only No. 45 Pop. It's B-side, Holland-Dozier-Holland's "I Like Everything About You" ( from "Second Album" ) was frankly, more lively. "On Top" also showcased the group's obvious love of supper club standards ( "Still Of The Night," "Quiet Nights," "Matchmaker" ). Two sturdy H-D-H numbers, "Until You Love Someone" and " I Got A Feeling" rode the respective B-sides of "Reach Out I'll Be There" and "Bernadette."
If the Tops can be considered to have a masterpiece Motown album, it was unquestionably "Four Tops Reach Out" ( originally Motown 660). By the time it appeared in the early summer of 1967, the group had amassed three more enduring classic singles, "Reach Out," "Standing In The Shadows Of Love," and "Bernadette" ( No. 1, No. 6 and No. 4 Pop, respectively. ) Simultaneous with the LP release was a fourth single, a genuine double-sided hit, "7-Rooms Of Gloom" and "I'll Turn To Stone". It was the last album fully under the auspices of producers Holland-Dozier-Holland, and fans, eager for any album carrying "Reach Out" sent it to No. 11 on the Pop album chart. ( It might have gone higher, but Motown chose to release "Greatest Hits" in only September, which repeated the cream singles of "Reach Out" and the group's older signature hits back to 1964's "Baby I Need Your Loving." )
The cover tunes were a delight, especially the clear enjoyment Levi shows with the Monkees' "I'm A Believer." Young owners of the album like myself were delighted when Motown went twice back into it for singles for the first half of '68: "Walk Away Renee" and "If I Were A Carpenter" ( both Top 20 ), though we wouldn't fully know for some years the troubling reasons why.
By the end of "Carpenter's" chart run in June of 1968, Motown was a different company. Florence Ballard had been expelled from the Supremes, David Ruffin was out of the Temptations, and Marvin Gaye was increasingly affected by the on-going illness of his cherished duet partner, Tammi Terrell. On corporate levels, things changed perhaps even more profoundly. Producer William Stevenson, a founding pillar, and integral in many Gaye and Martha & the Vandellas hits, asked for stock in the company, didn't get it, and took a deal with MGM Records, taking singer-wife Kim Weston with him. Clarence Paul, an incalculable early influence in Stevie Wonder's career, was soon gone too.
Even those losses, perhaps sustainable, were soundly trumped by the walkout of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland over royalty disputes. The Supremes, now marking time till Diana's solo departure, managed to remain a commercial presence with hits like "Livin' In Shame", "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" and genuine milestones like "Love Child" and their "Someday We'll Be Together" farewell. The going was much tougher for H-D-H-dependent acts like Martha & the Vandellas and the Four Tops. The Vandellas never recovered and the Tops suddenly had to struggle for hits as never before. Frank Wilson brought them some respite in 1970 with a re-make of "It's All In the Game," "Still Water" and a Supremes duet, "River Deep-Mountain High". A slightly longer resurgence came with the group's signing with ABC Records in 1972.
But for rabid, mid-60s Motown fans, the party was over. The company would still make enduring hit music, but the days when we could presume a very interesting ( if not chart-topping ) single, by every major act, every three months, were no more. "On Top" and "Reach Out" represent the last glorious days before that coming turmoil and upset, and they surely belong in any Four Tops lover's collection.