A regionally ignored Motor City knockoff of The Four Tops, this Auburn Hills quartet’s lead singer LaFonte Dupree credits his partial blindness for giving him the urgency in his voice that would later be known as “soul” but at the time he began singing was usually referred to as excessive pleading or its more polite form, favor asking.
“I was constantly needing people to drive me around, like, to the barber shop or to the candy store,” he remembers. “Pretty soon I became known around Detroit as a guy with a whole lot of soul.” Actually, he was more widely known as a guy who asked a whole lot of favors.
When he pressed songwriter and local record producer Dutch Dreamwell to give him a song that might get The 4 Sublevels noticed, it was the ridiculous “Girl, You’re a Girl” on the Auburn record label. Despite the song’s unrelenting banality (the word “girl” is repeated 106 times), Dreamwell was able to capture the sound of the Motown house band so uncannily that several of the Motown session players were personally fined $100 by Berry Gordy for “moonlighting.” The followup 4-Sublevels single actually got a few fired.
On “My Secret Life”, Dreamwell took the tried and true Holland-Dozier-Holland formula that worked so well for Levi Stubbs Jr & company (singing about how a girl is making a fool of a man in front of the neighbors) and turned it on its ear, so that it is the singer who is well-adjusted about a recent breakup while the neighbors are desperate for him to get her back because they can’t survive without ogling her over the back fence. It was a tweak that didn’t win the 4 Sublevels too many fans when they hit the road to promote the song. Says Dreamwell today, “No one likes a soul man who refuses to ruin the knees of his new suit to beg unashamedly. Not even one who asks a lot of favors.”
On “Pinch Me”, the 4 Sublevels’ BONUS B-SIDE of DUBIOUS DISTINCTION, the band’s producer Dutch Dreamwell corralled dozens of the group’s friends in the recording studio, including members of the Temptations, the Miracles and even a few stray Swinging Medallions who happened to be touring the Motor City at the time, to achieve a frat party atmosphere the song demanded.
“The guys in the Miracles I had to eject because they kept yelling out ‘Hey Smokey’ and ruining takes, like we were trying to remake ‘Mickey’s Monkey’ or something. I called them saboteurs at the time but you can still hear them on the take we used. We also invited soprano LaWanda Tyne to the session but she had car trouble so we just sent out for some helium balloons and had Pee Wee Johnston sing her part.”
As for this expletive-filled version heard here for the very first time, Dreamwell blames his bad handwritten lyrics for all the F-bombs. “Myself, I’ll never understand how LaFonte could get ‘fuck you’ from ‘funny’.”