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'Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch' 10 Reasons Why The Four Tops Didn't Actually Like The Song 'I Can't Help Myself'

Entertainment | December 4, 2018

Written by Jacob Shelton

Released on June 19, 1965, "I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" thrust The Four Tops into the mainstream with their first chart-topping hit. The quartet, formed in 1953, had been around the block a few times, with several record labels, before eventually landing at Motown, where they sang jazz standards and backup vocals on some of their label-mates' hits. In 1964, the Four Tops nearly made the Billboard Top Ten with "Baby I Need Your Loving," which peaked at #11 on the Hot 100. "Baby I Need Your Loving" was a composition of Motown's famous Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team; noting its success, Motown began to think that the Four Tops could be a significant act for the label. Then came "I Can't Help Myself" and its maddeningly catchy first line of "Sugar pie, honey bunch," which proved Motown's hunch beyond all doubt.

For Starters, The First Reason They Hated It Was...

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It's often said that, in the music business, you're only as good as your last hit. For the Four Tops, having a chart-topper after so many years of toiling in obscurity meant that they were very good indeed. Perhaps better than they believed was possible after a decade of frustration. "I Can't Help Myself" stands with "Baby Love" by the Supremes, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye, "I Can't Get Next To You" by the Temptations and a handful of others that defined the Motown Records sound at its 1960s catchiest.

It was a career-making single for the Four Tops, and yet, that opening lyric -- "Sugar pie, honey bunch" -- it takes a special kind of nerve to kick off a song with something that sappy.

Even though the song changed the lives of The Four Tops forever, they had a hot and cold relationship with it. They never liked the track, from the lyrics to the vocal take selected, but they could always rely on the song to reignite interest from the public (it was periodically re-released as a single or used as a B-side throughout the '60s and '70s). As childish as the lyrics sound, their origins are freakier than you think, and the drama surrounding the song is just as intense.

10) Levi Stubbs Had To Push His Voice Too Much For The Song

The single pushes the baritone voice of Levi Stubbs, lead vocalist of the Four Tops, into his highest register, making him sound like he’s pleading with a lover – something that adds a resonance to the saccharine lyrics of the song. The de facto leader of the Four Tops, Stubbs was one of the strongest voices in the Motown stable. His syrupy baritone could make any lyrics sound good, but he didn’t think "I Can’t Help Myself" was adult enough to actually be popular. Not only that, he didn’t like his vocal take on the final recording. 

After recording two takes of the track, he wanted to redo the whole thing, and even though writer and producer Brian Holland told Stubbs that the group could take another stab at the song in another session, that never happened, and the group’s second attempt at the song was released as a single. 

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Jacob Shelton

Writer

Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.