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Duke Fakir Of The Four Tops Plays Not My Job

Abdul "Duke" Fakir of the Four Tops performs in Detroit in February 2006.
Leon Halip/Getty Images

Duke Fakir was still a high school student in Detroit when he started performing songs with three friends in the 1950s. That was the beginning of the 40-year career of the Four Tops, one of Motown's biggest acts, known for such hits as "Reach Out I'll Be There," "Baby I Need Your Loving," "Bernadette" and many more.

We've invited Duke, as one member of the Four Tops, to answer three questions about different kinds of bottoms.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

PETER SAGAL, HOST:

And now, the game where we reward a lifetime of achievement with about ten minutes of silliness. It's called Not My Job. Duke Fakir was a high school student here in Detroit, back in the 50s, when he started performing with three friends. That was the start of the Four Tops, one of Motown's biggest acts...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: ...with their hits "Reach Out I'll Be There," "Baby I Need Your Loving," "Bernadette" and many others. Duke is still singing, still in Detroit. We are delighted to have him here. Duke Fakir, welcome to WAIT WAIT...DON'T TELL ME.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

DUKE FAKIR: Thank you so much.

SAGAL: What an honor, an honor to have you.

FAKIR: Thank you.

SAGAL: So...

FAKIR: Thank you, Peter. First of all, it's really a joy to be here.

SAGAL: It is great.

FAKIR: Yeah.

SAGAL: Everybody's having a good time.

FAKIR: You know, you guys are really hilarious.

SAGAL: Well, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So let's do like they do in the comic books, the origin story. You were a high school student near here, in Detroit.

FAKIR: Right. Pershing High.

SAGAL: Pershing High in Detroit.

FAKIR: Pershing High Doughboy.

SAGAL: And you...

FAKIR: Any Doughboys out there?

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

SAGAL: All right, we got one.

FAKIR: All right.

SAGAL: And you started performing with a friend of yours in high school.

FAKIR: Exactly right.

SAGAL: And you were like, doing what, after school dances? You were in churches, what?

FAKIR: Well, you know, I've just enjoyed singing all my life.

SAGAL: Yeah.

FAKIR: You know, I sang in all the choirs in church and all the choirs in school, you know, as I grew up.

SAGAL: You and your friend, who was that first person?

FAKIR: Levi Stubbs.

SAGAL: You and Levi.

FAKIR: Yeah, we started it, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: And two more from...

FAKIR: Renaldo "Obie" Benson and Lawrence Payton.

SAGAL: Okay. And...

FAKIR: Now, we was at Pershing High, Levi and I were very popular because I was an athlete and everybody knew he could sing. But we always liked singing in a group. Now, there was a girl's club called the Shahrazads. They were giving a party, like a dance party. And the criteria to be in this girl's group was that you had to be really "ah", okay?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: So they were giving this party.

SAGAL: Yeah, I see.

FAKIR: Now, we didn't really go there to sing.

SAGAL: I see.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: We went there for the - for what guys go to the parties for, you know.

SAGAL: Right.

FAKIR: All right. Well, it just so happened that when we did sing, everybody knew Levi was the lead singer, so...

SAGAL: Right.

FAKIR: So in the middle of the party, the little young ladies said, hey, Lee, is this a quartet you got? You guys want to sing? So he said, yeah, yeah. So he said, you all just back me up. So he started singing a song we all knew, and we started backing him up. And our voices blended perfectly well.

MO ROCCA: Oh geez.

FAITH SALIE: Wow.

SAGAL: Really?

FAKIR: I was singing first tenor. Lawrence was just singing second tenor and Obie Benson started singing baritone bass.

SAGAL: I got to say, having heard that story about that party, I think about lyrics like "baby, I need your loving, got to have all your loving," and I take them a lot more literally than I used to.

FAKIR: Oh yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: I wish we knew that song then.

SAGAL: I bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: So tell me about - you were there in the heyday of Motown. You went from Chess to Motown.

FAKIR: Yeah, we went from Chess to Columbia and then to Riverside. And all the while, Motown was starting to grow. So Berry Gordy had seen us on "The Tonight Show." We were working out of New York. So he had the A&R director who knows us quite well, to get in touch with us. And at that time, we were thinking about how we were going to get in touch with Berry.

SAGAL: Right.

FAKIR: So it really worked out. I mean, we rushed back to Detroit and sat down and made a deal. Whatever deal he offered us, we was going to take anyway...

SAGAL: Really?

FAKIR: Because we were just really going to - that's where we should be. And then that was the kind of deal he made. He just promised us hit records.

SAGAL: And he did it.

FAKIR: And he did.

SAGAL: It was pretty crazy there, I'm told, in the heyday.

FAKIR: Oh it...

SAGAL: Everybody was competing to get the next song out.

FAKIR: Once he put us with Holland-Dozier-Holland...

SAGAL: The great songwriting team.

FAKIR: They were great songwriters.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Yeah.

FAKIR: In fact, to be honest, I call them the greatest tailors of music in that day, because they would have, like one week they'd have the Valdellas in there and they would tailor make a number one or a top ten hit for them. The next week they'd have The Supremes in, tailor make a song and production, top ten or number one.

Then they would have the Four Tops in the next. Then next week they'd have Junior Walker. And they wrote these specifically while you're sitting there sometimes, just for you. When you walked out of there, you had a top ten record.

SAGAL: Well, tell me how that happened for you, for example, like a song like "The Same Old Song," one of your hits.

FAKIR: Well, "The Same Old Song" came about after "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch, Can't Help Myself." "Can't Help Myself" is one of our biggest hits, that and "Reach Out." It had been on the charts, number one for 19 weeks. So when it fell from one to give, Berry Gordy came in the studio and started screaming. "We got an anchor. It's number five with an anchor. We don't have another record to follow."

And we said, oh, you're right. So he told Holland-Dozier-Holland, he said, "Look, this is Thursday. I got to have a record and I got to have a record on the Tops by Monday."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: So Lamont Dozier and I went out and we, you know, had a few drinks. We was feeling quite good. And he was feeling just a little better than I, Lamont Dozier.

SAGAL: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: So I said, look, man, and I was driving, and I said, let me take you home. So I went to his house. He said come on in for a minute and just have a nightcap. I say, okay, baby. So we had a nightcap and we was talking, and as usual, he just went to his piano and he started tinkering around. He was playing "Can't Help Myself."

But then he started playing it backwards. The same chords, just playing it - I said, you know, that sounded like that same song that we just... He said, what'd you say? I said it sounded like that song we just recorded "Can't Help Myself."

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: It's the same song. He say, okay, Duke, I'm fine. I'll see you later. And I went home. The next day they called us to come to the studio, Friday. They had recorded a track called "The Same Old Song," a rhythm by the Front Brothers, who sang the song. They mixed it. Sunday, they called us into the office to stamp label copies. Monday, it was...

SAGAL: So, wait a minute, you had to go...

FAKIR: Monday, it was on the air. We was all...

SAGAL: You had to go in there and stamp your own labels?

FAKIR: Yeah, why not?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: Are you kidding? Yeah. To get it on the air by Monday, yes.

SAGAL: You think Eminem does that? He goes in and stamps his own?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: And it was on the air.

SAGAL: That's amazing.

FAKIR: It was on the air Monday and we had a hit by Tuesday.

SAGAL: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

FAKIR: So, just like that.

SAGAL: So "The Same Old Song" is actually the same old song. Who knew?

FAKIR: It's the same old song backwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SALIE: So, Duke, you have a lot of swoon-worthy songs, right? So when you were dating, when you did want to court somebody, what was your go-to song that you would sing to her?

FAKIR: "Baby, I Need Your Loving," what else?

SAGAL: Oh yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ROCCA: But wait a minute, you'd need the other three Tops to come with you on the date to make it work.

FAKIR: No, no, no.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: That's the only time I could do a solo.

SAGAL: There you are.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: Well what a pleasure to talk to you. But...

FAKIR: But what?

SAGAL: Duke, we have asked you here to play a game that today we are calling?

CARL KASELL, HOST:

You are one of the Four Tops. Now, it's time for three bottoms.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: It seems to make sense. We got three questions for you about different kinds of bottoms.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Answer two of them...

FAKIR: I can answer all of those.

SAGAL: I bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: Excuse me.

SAGAL: But we have three questions for you about bottoms. Carl, who is Duke Fakir playing for?

KASELL: Duke is playing for Ronald Bazman of Brighton, Michigan.

SAGAL: All right, you ready to do this?

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

FAKIR: Okay.

SAGAL: Here's your first question. The Bottom is the name of the capital of the tiny island of Saba, in the Caribbean Netherlands. The Sabans also demonstrated their genius for naming things. How?

A: there's a desert on the north side of the island called The Big Damp? B: the favorite food of the island is something they call Gut Fruit? Or C: the one road on the island is called The Road?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: So...

SAGAL: One of those things is true.

FAKIR: The Road.

SAGAL: Yes, you're right. Yes, The Road.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The only road in the island of Saba is called The Road. It was built by a guy who took a correspondence course in engineering. It's quite a ride, we're told. All right. Your next question, sometimes bottoms play a role in history...

FAKIR: Yes, most times.

SAGAL: Oh yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: You've seen some historic bottoms in your day, I would imagine. But this is a bottom that sort of had a role in world history that happened recently. Was it the bottom of Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi? He decided not to run for president because, he said, his butt gets numb in long meetings?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Was it the butt of Sadam Hussein, a British soldier stole the butt of a statue of him and came home with it? Iraq wants it back. Or C: relations between Israel and Palestine were briefly improved some years ago when Shimon Peres butt-dialed Mahmoud Abbas?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: Number three.

SAGAL: You're going to go for number three.

ROCCA: Nuh-huh, uh, uh, ugh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Do you have a problem, Mo? Is there something wrong?

ROCCA: Well, I think he should reconsider.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Do you want to reconsider? I cannot vouch for Mo. I can tell you that he's sincere in his desire.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: I just like the way number three sounds.

SAGAL: All right, I understand that.

FAKIR: Okay. I'm sticking with it.

SAGAL: He's going to stick with it. Well, Mo was right. In fact, it was B. It was Saddam Hussein.

ROCCA: Yeah, Saddam Hussein's butt.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Last question, President William Howard Taft had the biggest bottom of any president to date.

ROCCA: Yeah.

SAGAL: As a role in his legacy, according to legend, A: he claimed his bottom would tingle whenever he should veto a piece of legislation? That's how he knew.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: B: his butt was too big for a chair at a baseball game, and when he stood up to stretch, he began the tradition of the seventh inning stretch? Or C: what was then the square office became the oval office...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: ...because he needed more room to turn around?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FAKIR: I like B.

SAGAL: You're going to go for B, the seventh inning stretch? Is that your choice?

ROCCA: I think it is.

FAKIR: Yeah.

SAGAL: Yes, that's it.

ROCCA: Yes, it is.

SAGAL: That's the...

SALIE: Wow.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SAGAL: The fact is that Taft became the first president to attend a baseball game and threw out the first pitch. The legend is that he started the seventh inning stretch by standing up in the seventh inning to relieve his cramped condition.

ROCCA: William Howard Taft was so large, he had a bathtub built in the White House that could fit four men.

SAGAL: Or one Taft.

ROCCA: Right, exactly. There's a picture of the...

SALIE: Four bottoms.

SAGAL: For four bottoms.

FAKIR: Oh wow.

SAGAL: There you go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SAGAL: Carl, how did Duke do on our quiz?

KASELL: Well, Duke had two correct answers, Peter, so he wins for Ronald Bazman.

SAGAL: Well done, Duke. Congratulations.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

FAKIR: Thank you.

SAGAL: Duke Fakir is one of the original Four Tops. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and you can see him perform in Bloomington, Illinois on January 21st at the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. Duke Fakir, thank you so much for joining us.

FAKIR: My pleasure.

SAGAL: What a pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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