The voice of Levi Stubbs had more thrilling, dramatic tension than perhaps any other in soul music. But harnessed to a Holland-Dozier-Holland song with the emotional tautness of ‘7 Rooms Of Gloom,’ the result was one of the most stirring singles in the Four Tops‘ mighty catalogue.
The intro alone was surely among Motown’s most gripping scene-setters. “I see a house, a house of stone,” Levi tells us, spelling out the sheer bleakness of his solitude. “A lonely house, ‘cos now you’re gone, seven rooms, that’s all it is, seven rooms of gloom…” Then he breaks into song to declare: “I live with emptiness, without your tenderness.”
Produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier, the song (hyphenated as ‘7-Rooms’ on the label) was recorded in October 1966. Stubbs’ vocals were added in the new year. He was supported by not just his fellow Tops but by Hitsville staples the Andantes, as the ghostly backing heightened the sense of despair that Stubbs conveyed so brilliantly. The song’s baroque aura was further enhanced by the inspired use of a staccato harpsichord underneath his voice.
“A real powerhouse”
“The Four Tops should have no trouble adding to their long list of hits with this thumping, fast-moving, blues-oriented rocker,” wrote Cash Box. “Already on the Top 100, the side is a real powerhouse that could easily go all the way.” In a “Bios For Deejays” piece, the trade magazine opined: “The solid success of the Four Tops reflects their versatility; their song bags are filled with all types of music. Their ‘in person’ acts are studded with captivating dance steps. Theirs is indeed a ‘total performance.’”
‘7 Rooms Of Gloom’ came after a golden period of three consecutive top ten singles for the Tops with ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There,’ ‘Standing In The Shadows Of Love’ and ‘Bernadette.’ They reached that higher ground on the US pop and soul charts and in the UK too. The new 45, released on 4 May, fell a little short of those heights, but on 20 May it entered the Billboard Hot 100 on its way to No. 14. It did give them another R&B top tenner, already their tenth, and hit No. 12 in the UK, in the week that The Beatles hit No. 1 with ‘All You Need Is Love.’
Like its three predecessors, ‘7 Rooms’ landed on the Reach Out album that followed in July, which also included the memorable b-side ‘I’ll Turn To Stone.’ The LP itself went to No. 3 on the US R&B listings, on which it spent an entire year, and No. 11 pop. In the UK, where the Tops were now established favourites, the album peaked at No. 4. It went on to produce two more of the quartet’s best-loved signatures, ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ and ‘Walk Away Renée.’
‘7 Rooms Of Gloom’ is on the Four Tops’ Reach Out album, which can be bought here.