The Four Tops started their musical career as the Four Aims at a house party in Detroit in 1954. Members included Levi Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton. They changed the group’s name to The Four Tops to avoid confusion with a popular group of the day, the Ames Brothers. A smooth lounge act, the Tops stuck to standards and ballads and recorded for at least four other record companies before Berry Gordy signed them to Motown in 1964.
Their breakthrough hit, “Baby I Need Your Loving,” was produced by Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1964, and was followed by greater success with “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” in 1965, the Tops’ first #1 hit. Other hits were released during this period, including “It’s the Same Old Song,” “Shake Me, Wake Me (When It’s Over)” and “Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever.” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” released in 1966, was the group’s biggest Motown hit. It could also be considered The Four Tops’ theme song, as it musically expressed the feelings of solidarity and brotherly love group members felt for one another.
The Four Tops continued to churn out hits for Motown with releases that included “Standing in the Shadows of Love” and “Bernadette,” both of which placed well on the R&B and pop charts. The quartet performed together for more than forty years, without a single personnel change, separated only by the death of group member Lawrence Payton in 1997.
Like other Motown artists, The Four Tops occupy a place of high honor among rhythm and blues royalty. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, the Tops also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and were ranked #79 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
The Four Tops perform “Reach Out I’ll Be There” on The Ed Sullivan Show, October 16, 1966.
The Four Tops perform “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” live in Paris, France, 1967
Remarkably, The Four Tops were together without a personnel change for 43 years, from1954 until 1997, when original group member Lawrence Payton died.