Something of a standard these days, If I Were A Carpenter is most often treated in much the same way as Tim Hardin’s original version: as a rather gentle, folkish pop song. In The Four Tops’ hands, however, it’s something else entirely.
The most notable thing about the record – as with all Four Tops records – is Levi Stubbs’ urgent, pleading vocal. Unlike Hardin (or Bobby Darin or Johnny Cash or Robert Plant) he sounds like a man who really means business. Never mind all the poetic reasoning, his voice alone should be enough to convince the girl to, at the very least, marry him.
The song’s production is dense, tight and thunderous – and a little more so than the usual trademark Motown sound. It’s as if they’d decided that if they were going to depart from the original song, they were really going to depart from it. It goes without saying, of course, that the musicianship is absolutely top notch.
For me, this is the only reading of the song that makes sense: because it’s the only version that gets close to capturing the swagger and arrogance of what is possibly the song’s key statement:
If I worked my hands in wood,
Would you still love me?
Answer me babe: “Yes I would,
I’d place you high above me.”