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E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Sunday, July 3, 2005

A voice stilled

Obie Benson, whose career as the bass singer in the legendary Motown group the Four Tops spanned 50 years, died Friday in Detroit.

Some obituaries can be found here and here. Benson, whose real first name was Renaldo, was apparently the member of the group who kept everyone smiling. Less known is the fact that he wrote the lyrics to Marvin Gaye's classic song "What's Goin' On." According to The New York Times:

One afternoon in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, he was sitting with a friend, enjoying the street life. He was stunned when police descended on a crowd of hippies, pummeling them for no apparent reason, Mr. Benson recalled in an interview last year.

Returning to Detroit, Mr. Benson wrote the lyrics for what became the protest song "What's Goin' On." Knowing the tune did not fit the Tops' upbeat style, he offered it to Marvin Gaye, who embraced it despite the initial objections of [Motown mogul Berry] Gordy, who doubted the tune would sell, Mr. Benson said.

I was privileged to catch the Tops' last television performance with Benson in ther lineup, a few months ago. Who had them on? Letterman, of course. They rumbled through "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," my favorite Tops number, and although it wasn't as polished as when they first performed it nearly 40 years ago, it was every bit as exciting as an old Ed Sullivan show from their heyday. Everybody loved it.

And I doubt that anybody loved it more than Obie did.

You know, we've got to find a way To bring some understanding here today Picket lines and picket signs Don't punish me with brutality Talk to me So you can see What's goin' on

See you on the other side, Mr. Bass Man.

Comments (4)

Thanks for the history lesson, Jack. iTunes is $2.97 richer this afternoon and my iPod is that much cooler.

That is too bad that guys like the Four Tops and the Temptations (sorry, my slight favorite) don't exist today. I mean are you gonna hang onto your Destiny's Child CD for 30 years?

I too must confess a preference for the Temps. But I'll never forget the first high school dance I ever attended. I was the baby in the crowd. When the Tops came on and the crowd let out a little hormonal moan, I knew I was about to grow up. "I know whatcha thinkin' -- You're alone now -- No love of your own -- But darlin' -- C'mon girl, reach out for me!" Timeless.

About 12 years ago, I saw the Temps & the Four Tops from the fifth row at the Garden State Arts Center on a hot August night. Never saw a better show. Melvin Franklin asked the crowd to get a copy of their new CD,because his wife "wanted a new Caddilac". Three hours of nothing but hits, and a lifetime of memories.
We first heard these sounds from a 4 inch speaker from a small transister radio that was never turned off in Hawkins Street playground. Songs that became a part of us, from Motown to our town.
Don't forget Smokey, lil' Stevie, the Supremes, Tammy & Marvin, Jr. Walker & the All Stars, Otis Redding and Gladys Knight & the Pips. What about Jackie Wilson, David Ruffin, Edwin Starr, Eddie Kendricks and Al Green?

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