Reach Out I'll Be There

Album: Reach Out (1966)
Charted: 1 1


  • The Motown songwriting team of Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland (Holland-Dozier-Holland) wrote this. Dozier explained: "Brian, Eddie and I often had discussions about what women really want most of all from a man, and after talking about some of our experiences with women, we all three agreed that they wanted someone to be there for them, through thick or thin, and be there at their beck and call! Thus this song was born."
  • Holland-Dozier-Holland team also produced the songs they wrote. For this one, they told lead singer Levi Stubbs to sing like Bob Dylan on "Like a Rolling Stone," which explains the urgency in his lyrics. Phil Spector once described it as "black Dylan."
  • The Four Tops recorded this in just two takes, and had practically forgotten about the song until it was released, assuming it was a "throwaway" album track. Motown boss Berry Gordy had other ideas and released it as a single. Gordy had a knack for identifying hit songs, and got this one right.
  • This was one of many hits the Holland-Dozier-Holland team wrote for The Four Tops. Some of these songs sounded remarkably similar, but the Motown writers didn't have time to start from scratch with every song, since they were expected to crank out lots of songs in a hurry. H-D-H averaged two or three songs a day and literally had to clock in to work. Lamont Dozier said in a 1984 interview with NME: "If we didn't complete them at least we would start them. We would have parts of the songs, like hooks, or maybe parts of verse, so that at the end of the day we would have something accomplished. I guess that was primarily the reason for the success we had in such a short time. We were there eight or nine years and out of those years we racked up some 50 or 60 Top 20 records, 66 Top Ten... something like that."
  • The line, "happiness is just an illusion" appeared in another Motown song that was on the charts at the same time: "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" by Jimmy Ruffin. That one also rhymed "illusion" with "confusion."
  • Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent sang backup. They later went on to form the successful vocal trio Dawn along with Tony Orlando.
  • This is a very difficult song to sing, something BeBe Winans learned when he performed it at a 2003 ceremony where Holland-Dozier-Holland were given a BMI Icon Award. "He had the hardest time singing it because it was switching keys and going to different places," Lamont Dozier recalled to Songfacts. "But he finally got it. Some of those songs are awkward to sing and you have to be a great singer to sell it."
  • Diana Ross recorded this for her 1971 album Surrender, taking the song to #29 in the US. Her version, which was produced by Ashford & Simpson, is drastically different from the Four Tops original. Ross sang it in a similar style to her 1970 hit, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Brad - Berea, OH
  • This song has an interesting chart history in the UK: The original hit #1 in 1966, Gloria Gaynor took a disco version to #14 in 1975, a remix of the Four Tops version by the production team Stock, Aitken & Waterman went to #11 in 1988, and Michael Bolton's version hit #37 in 1993.

    It was just the second Motown song to hit #1 in the UK, following "Baby Love" by The Supremes, which reached the summit in 1964.
  • Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche plays this on faucets in a 2013 Delta Faucets commercial. In 2020, Heinz used it in a Super Bowl commercial where four families on different planets enjoy their Ketchup.

Comments: 18

  • Ray from Steilacoom WaI have two big - enjoyable - memories of my year in Vietnam: Reach Out playing on Armed Forces Radio it seems like at least once a day; and, Good Morning, Vietnam.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn November 30, 1968, Merilee Rush performed her covered version of "Reach Out (I'll Be There)"* on the Dick Clark ABC-TV Saturday-afternoon program, 'American Bandstand'...
    The very next day on December 1st the song entered Billboard's Top 100 chart at #89, the next week it remained at #89, for it's third week it was at #82, and then on it's fourth and final week on the chart it peaked at #79...
    Besides "Reach Out", Ms. Rush had three other Top 100 records, "Angel of the Morning" {#7 in 1968}, "That Kind of Woman" {#76 in 1968}, and "Save Me" {#54 in 1977}...
    Merrilee Rush, born Merrilee Gunst, will celebrate her 74th birthday in two months on January 26th {2018}...
    * Exactly two years earlier on November 30th, 1966 the Four Tops' original version of "Reach Out" was at #32, seven weeks earlier it had peaked at #1 {for 2 weeks}.
  • Marty from Cleveland, OhI heard an interview with one of the Tops (Abdul maybe) who said that the line "Just look over your shoulder" was not part of the written song. He said it just popped into Levi Stubbs' head as he was recording the song. Afterward, the producer asked him something like, "What the heck was that?" But everybody liked it, so it stayed.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 21st 2013, the 'Funk Brothers' received their star on the 'Hollywood Walk of Fame' ... What the hell took the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce so long?
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn March 16th 1975, Gloria Gaynor's covered version of "Reach Out, I'll Be There" entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #86; eventually it reached #60 and spent 5 weeks on the Top 100...
    It reached #56 on Billboard's R&B Singles chart...
    Between 1974 and 1979 she had seven Top 100 records, two made the Top 10 with one reaching #1, "I Will Survive" for 3 non-consecutive* weeks in 1979...
    Two slower covered versions of the Four Tops' "Reach Out, I’ll Be There" also made the Top 100 chart; Merrilee Rush & the Turnabouts {#79 in 1968} and Diana Ross {#29 in 1971}...
    Ms. Gaynor will celebrate her 66th birthday this coming September 7th {2015}...
    * Between its 2nd and 3rd week at #1, the Bee Gee's "Tragedy" held the top spot for two weeks.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn August 28th, 1966, "Reach Out I'll Be There" by the Four Tops entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #82; and on October 9th, 1966 it peaked at #1 {for 2 weeks} and spent 15 weeks on the Top 100 {and for 7 of those 15 weeks it was on the Top 10}...
    Three covered versions of the song have made the Top 100 chart; Merrilee Rush {#79 in 1968}, Diana Ross {#29 in 1971}, and Gloria Gaynor {#60 in 1975}...
    Between 1964 and 1988 the Motown quartet had forty-four Top 100 records; five made the Top 10 with "Reach Out I'll Be There" being their biggest hit...
    They just missed having seven Top 10 records when "Still Water (Love)" in 1970 and "When She Was My Girl" in 1981 both peaked at #11...
    On Billboard's R&B Singles chart they had three #1 and five #2 records...
    Sadly, three of the four members have passed away; Levi Stubbs {1936 - 2008}, Renaldo 'Obie' Benson {1936- 2005}, & Lawrence Payton {1938 - 1997} and Abdul 'Duke' Fakir will celebrate his 79th birthday the day after Christmas {December 26th, 2014}.
  • Dave from Moscow, Russia FederationI hadn't heard this song for years. When I heard it again, I thought some joker had recorded over the original intro with a thigh-slappin' "giddy-up" rhythm. Obviously this was the original, and deliberately left on. It's kind of rough and unusually loud in the mix. Great song, and it got my kids hooked on the Motown sound.
  • Dave from Moscow, Russia FederationI hadn't heard this song for years. When I heard it again, I thought some joker had recorded over the original intro with a thigh-slappin' "giddy-up" rhythm. Obviously this was the original, and deliberately left on. It's kind of rough and unusually loud in the mix. Great song, and it got my kids hooked on the Motown sound.
  • Naomi from Philadelphia, PaYou just gotta love Motown! I'll always love this song!!!!
  • John from Nashville, TnGloria Gaynor included this song on her historical Grammy-nominated album NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE. This song, "Honeybee" and the title track were sequed together on side one of the album to create almost twenty minutes of nonstop disco dancing. Other disco albums during the 70s followed Gaynor's blueprint.
  • Kristin from Bessemer, AlThis song was featured in the closing credits of the 1975 American International picture "Cooley High", starring Glynn Turman.
  • Brad from Berea, OhDiana Ross covered this song for her 1971 album "Surrender." Her version was produced by Ashford & Simpson and released as a single, but only made it to #29 on the pop charts. Her version gives the song a entirely different feel and look. Her version has the same dramatic epic feel to it as her hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." The LP version lasts around 5 minutes and 30 seconds. I highly recommend her version! It's right up there with The Four Tops' original.
  • Brian from Phoenix, AzI love the Four Tops! To me, they were one of the best (if not THE BEST) Motown groups. Their sound was very strong, powerful, emotional, not to mention good and gritty (therefore raw and real).

    This song (which melodically reminds me of "Standing In The Shadows Of Love") may be their truest signature tune. The lyrics are so enrapturing, and Levi's vocal delivery is so inviting, they just don't make 'em like they used to. I can listen to this over and over, what a glorious treat!
  • Colby from Arthur, IlListen to the backing track of the song only and you will instantly fall in love with the rhythm guitar. When I really studied the song hard and heard the bass, the rhythm, and the tambourine all together, it was "DUH!" popped in my head. Great sound only Motown and Hitsville USA could master.
  • Phil from Sydney, AustraliaG'day guys! I know u like this song but u haven't heard of Aussie Boy-Band Human Nature's recent Motown version!
  • Sara from Silver Spring, MdMichael McDonald covered this, he rules!
  • John-martin from Silver Creek, MsThis is one of the classic "shouters" of the 60's. The message is clear..never give up...reach out and I'll be there. Levi Stubbs was in true Four Top form on this one. It's sad that two of the original members have passed. Lawrence Payton passed in 1997 and Obie Bensen passed in 2005. What else is remarkable is that there were no personnel changes in the group until death intervened.
  • Paul from Cincinnati, OhI can't believe nobody's written anything about this song. This is an awesome song and is one of my favorite soul songs ever. I like how the song uses more minor chords than most soul songs did at the time
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet SprocketSongwriter Interviews

The "All I Want" singer went through a long depression, playing some shows when he didn't want to be alive.

Randy NewmanSongwriting Legends In Their Own Words

Newman makes it look easy these days, but in this 1974 interview, he reveals the paranoia and pressures that made him yearn for his old 9-5 job.

Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat WorldSongwriter Interviews

Jim talks about the impact of "The Middle" and uses a tree metaphor to describe his songwriting philosophy.

Chris TomlinSongwriter Interviews

The king of Christian worship music explains talks about writing songs for troubled times.

David Bowie Leads the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Long-Haired MenSong Writing

Bowie's "activist" days of 1964 led to Ziggy Stardust.

Gentle GiantSongwriter Interviews

If counterpoint and polyrhythms are your thing, you might love these guys. Even by Progressive Rock standards, they were one of the most intricate bands of the '70s. Then their lead singer gave us Bon Jovi.