'Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch?' Why The Four Tops Didn't Like 'I Can't Help Myself'

By | November 26, 2018

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Portrait of the Four Tops featured on the cover of The Four Tops Second Album (1965).

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.