Al Kent’s ‘The Loneliest One’ Reworks the Four Tops for a Disco Tearjerker

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Veteran Glaswegian DJ and producer Al Kent acts as a masterful mixologist on “The Loneliest One,” creating a chillingly good single by blending throbbing rhythm from a late-Seventies Ashford & Simpson record with towering vocals from the Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs in the 1960s.

While the original Four Tops cut, “Ask the Lonely,” chokes Stubbs’ magnificent voice in syrupy strings and walls of backing vocals — comfort and protection at odds with his disconsolate message — Kent hacks away the baroque instrumentation, stranding the singer in the same state of isolation described in his lyrics. With every high quaver and artful tremble of Stubbs’ heroic voice now laid bare, he starts to sound like a man on the brink of a breakdown.

And he’s not moping away quietly; in fact, he seems intent on bringing others down with him. Stubbs’ first line is ominous: “When you feel that you can make it all alone,” he sings, swooping from gruff warning to piercing falsetto, “remember no one is big enough to go it alone.” “Just ask the lonely,” Stubbs continues, driving home his lesson with cruel force. “They know the hurt and pain/Of losing a love you can never regain.”

In case the tears aren’t flowing on the dance floor yet, Stubbs’ vocal returns around the five-minute mark. “They’ll tell you a story of sadness, a story too sad to believe,” he sings, his voice now cracking as he expels words like they physically pain him. “They’ll tell you the loneliest one is me.”

Despite these expressions of utter despair, the disco groove continues to swell and ebb, thunking and funking over more than nine minutes. The rhythm section offers a lesson: If you’re forced to end up lonely, a dance floor isn’t a bad place to be.

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