The Four Tops’ album Still Waters Run Deep is an soul album that any fan of the genre should check out. The Four Tops were not known as an album act, as they came to popularity in the singles era. However, in keeping with the times, they wanted to make an album, a complete statement, and Still Waters Run Deep, which came out in 1970, was their chance. The album was not a huge commercial success and it would mark their last new release for Motown. (Surprisingly the album actually came out before Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, which was the Motown album that took soul music into the realm of the concept album in the public consciousness. The Wikipeda page states that the Tops album was an influence on What’s Going On, but I haven’t seen any other info that definitively supports that, though the chronology would make sense.)
It’s a shame that this album was not more successful, and even now not widely known, as it is simply a fantastic piece of pop soul that plays like a complete piece. Every song bleeds into the next one. The melodies and arrangements are top notch and Levi Stubbs is as great a soul singer as anyone. Although the album, as stated, plays as a complete piece, the topic of the songs doesn’t go too far away from the standard Motown fair. There is something about the arrangements and the innocence the lyrics of the album that reminds me of a soul Pet Sounds. The songs are largely reflections on human relationships.
One of the reasons I love this album, aside from the strong songwriting and excellent musicianship evident, and the always astounding singing of Stubbs, is the fact that in listening to it one can get a different outlook on one of Motown’s greatest acts. Aside from two minor hits, as Still Water (Love) and It’s All in the Game are featured on some of the Tops’ greatest hits, this album features music you haven’t heard anywhere else in a format that is a great front to back listen. It also serves as a bridge, musically, between the more pop soul of standard Motown, and the more psychedelic and forward thinking arrangements of later Temptations and Marvin Gaye records. (It is still extremely melodic and features many nods to 60’s pop, but it branches out in the margins through some of its production touches.)
So here you have a great album from the Motown era that has largely been forgotten. However, this is a record that truly deserves an audience. It was shaped by the world around it, by its immediate past, by those searching for the future. It’s a one off that remains unique to this day.